My family often drives me to the brink of madness; not a difficult thing to do, considering how close to the edge I already am. My daughter is a hellion. At the age of six, she’s both bright and bold, obstinate, and pushes every button I have. My wife blames my genetics: “I was never like that,” she claims. I deny it, despite knowing that I was also an uncontrollable child.
I’m a teacher, but I consider myself a modern philosopher. I’m very worried about the current state of education. I’m concerned about the future, in general. I don’t think we all necessarily need to be alarmists, though I do believe that if you look at the world around you and aren’t a little worried, you and I probably aren’t going to agree on much. (I’ll pretend not to look while you navigate elsewhere. There’s plenty of other entertainment on-line. Crushing Candy, and so forth…)
I’m currently working on a couple of new short stories, and on the sequel to The Second Lives of Honest Men, which I’m writing under the working title of The Old Crow.
Connect with John:
MF: The Second Lives of Honest Men has been called, “a stunning debut,” “pessimistic but fun,” and “the 1984 of our time.” Is there a reader comment that has stuck with you?
JC: This is from a reader who left a review on Goodreads: “After reading the first chapter of the book I felt scared. For a very brief moment I thought about abandoning the book, not because it was bad, quite the contrary, but because the vision of our future in the book was spot on.”
I’d never considered my book as a piece of horror – but it’s quite a compliment, nonetheless.
MF: What were your goals and intentions in The Second Lives of Honest Men, and how well do you feel you achieved them?
JC: I wanted to write something contemporary that would be ageless in design – something people can read fifty years from now while they’re looking at the world around them, and say, “Man – that guy really nailed some of this.”
But I wanted it to be relevant to readers of today, too. My goal was to allow people to experience something different, that held a powerful message – that while we’re all born into this system, it’s up to each of us to question things, particularly from a moral standpoint. I wanted to wrap that idea in a beautiful plot, and tell a story that many people could relate to.
Only time will tell if I’ve achieved my goals – but I feel good about the attempt.
MF: What are some of the references that you used while researching The Second Lives of Honest Men?
JC: I read a few different textbooks about Abraham Lincoln, and many different websites relating to who he was, and how he carried himself as a human being. I would not claim, now, nor ever, to be an expert on the man. However, I can assure you, that any historical references in the book are accurate, and that his speech is period correct – to the period from which he actually lived. This involved a great deal of consultation with etymological databases online, to make sure he wasn’t using phrases or words that wouldn’t make historical sense.
I tried to be true to the idea of Lincoln: who I feel he was, and how I expect he’d react to the scenarios that unfold around him.
MF: What do you find most difficult about writing?
JC: I love everything about the writing, itself. Going through the editing stages can be a struggle – particularly when it comes to listening to others people’s criticism. I love my beta readers, though. They don’t go easy on me, and the final product is better for their honesty.
MF: Name at least two of your favorite authors and tell us how they have influenced your writing.
JC: Charles Dickens, and Kurt Vonnegut.
Dickens had the ability to really carry the reader along on his narrative journeys. It’s as though he trundles past in a wagon, offers you a ride, you climb aboard… and he begins whispering sweet, undulating words in your ear. The rhythm becomes hypnotic, and before you know it, you’re at your destination. He also paints amazing visuals with words – a style I’ve worked hard to emulate, but with modern flair.
Vonnegut inspires me because of his flat out refusal to draw within the lines – he wrote how he wanted to write, broke all the rules, and his work is timeless as a result. His stories are insane, yet beautiful, which is sort of how I feel about my book. When I’m finished this trilogy (yes, there is a sequel in the works, and a prequel planned), I’d really love to write a Vonnegut inspired, totally off-the-cuff, wildly chaotic book, and see what happens.
MF: Do you have any unusual writing rituals or quirks?
JC: I need total, devoted, undistracted silence, in fairly long stretches at a time – the only exception being a touch of white noise from an overhead fan.
MF: Do you read your reviews? Do you respond to them, good or bad? Do you have any advice on how to deal with the bad?
JC: I don’t typically respond to them, and never, ever to the bad ones. People are entitled to their opinions. Not everyone likes every kind of ice cream… and while I spent a year churning it, and even though a lot of people really seem to love it, I can’t expect everyone to enjoy my flavor of ice cream. I know people who didn’t like 1984, or Fahrenheit 451, or The Great Gatsby – and while I generally want to smack those people, it wouldn’t do anyone any good. Our tastes are all different.
MF: What has been the toughest criticism given to you as a writer? What has been the best compliment?
JC: The toughest criticism came in the form of a wake-up call, and I’m thankful to have been given this ultimatum:
I was running a late stage draft past an old Professor – he encouraged me to find a professional line editor to really weed out the final problems. I told him I couldn’t afford one, and I stubbornly thought (to myself) that the work was solid. He told me something to the effect of “Even Stephen King has an editor, John.”
In the end, he was right. The book is much better from having been passed through not one, but two editors.
The greatest compliments have come from the people who’ve told me that they read the book in one or two sittings, or had to rip themselves away from it when life interfered. That’s always been my standard for a great book, too – one that I keep wanting to read “just one more chapter” from before bed. It’s a tremendously heart-warming compliment to be paid.
MF: Aside from polished and engaging writing, what three things do you think every new writer must do in order to succeed in this highly competitive and ever-changing industry?
JC: Interact with the world. A terrific writer who is a poor salesman has no chance of making it in this industry – though a competent writer who is a great salesman has a better than average chance. It’s no different than being the lonely soul riding a train cross-country, peddling his snake-oil, or barbed wire, a century and a half ago – the only difference is that a lot of that has moved online.
Another thing every successful writer has to do is… write! One book rarely ‘makes’ an author, these days. I’m intensely proud that I’ve written my first book, and prouder still that it’s been well received and strongly reviewed – but I don’t expect to make much more than a small splash in the pool until I’ve generated a lot more content. A writer can usually only sell the same book to the same person once.
Take yourself seriously – but not too seriously. There’s a fine line between professional dedication, and obsessing over a bad review, or yet another rejection letter from the umpteenth publishing house, or literary agent. Keep pushing forward. If you know there are people out there enjoying your work, then a market exists for you. Now try and climb to the top of it.
MF: If you could jump into a book, and live in that world… which would it be?
JC: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – provided that, like Arthur Dent, I am also given a chance to flee the world prior to its being demolished! If not, let’s scratch that entire idea.
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Purchase The Second Lives of Honest Men:
On the evening of April 14th, 1865, a flawless duplicate replaced the 16th President an instant prior to his assassination. Two centuries later, Honest Abe opened his eyes to a world in desperate need of guidance.
THE SECOND LIVES OF HONEST MEN is a prescient vision of where society’s dependence on technology could be taking us. It’s a character driven story about love, redemption, and hope, with deep philosophical underpinnings related to how we think, feel, and reason in a world where it’s ironically easy to feel disconnected.