Today I have the pleasure of introducing author Jason McCuiston who will be sharing his thoughts on reading and writing, and details of his new book, Project Notebook!
As an author –
Q: Where do you get your ideas?
A: That’s a tough one. I think I can get them from just about anything. As a kid I spent a lot of time with Uncle Creepy, Cousin Eerie, and Vampirella in the old Warren monster magazines, as well as the four-color heroes of Marvel Comics. I watched a lot of sci-fi TV and movies and read a lot of fantasy novels. Add to that all the Westerns, monster movies, and war movies, and I’ve got a veritable hoard of story fodder inside my noggin.
Then too, I love documentaries and shows like Mysteries at the Museum that point out oddities in the real world. Usually it is one of these historical obscurities or dramas that sparks an idea that sends me rummaging through my internal catalogue of weirdness to formulate a story. That’s sort of what happened with Project Notebook when I learned that the Pacific Northwest was a hotspot of UFO sightings weeks before the now famous Roswell incident.
Q: What motivates you to write?
A: Boredom, pure and simple. I saw Star Wars when I was four years old and have been disappointed with “the real world” ever since. Although I’m a historical fiction junkie, I tend to write in the speculative genres—science fiction, fantasy, horror, and weird tales. My motto is, If it doesn’t tend to happen in real life, that’s what I’m writing about.
Q: How many hours a week do you spend writing?
A: I try to get at least a solid two to four hours a day in during the week, then shoot for extra hours on the weekend. On a good week, I’d say I can hit sixteen to twenty hours of writing at the keyboard. It helps that I’m a decent typist. But even when I’m not at the computer, I’m mulling over ideas or jotting down notes about stories and WIPs. When I hit a block, I break out my sketchpad and doodle until something shakes loose.
Q: Best thing about writing?
A: The freedom, excitement, and adventure. In the stories I write bills, taxes, car repairs, and all the other humdrum problems of the mundane world fall away. What is the inconvenience and cost of renewing your auto tags when compared to the threat of an alien invasion?
Q: Your biggest writing distractions?
A: I’d have to say my own moodiness. There are days I get fixated on some dumb thing and my mind is like a dog with a bone, unable to let it go in favor of more productive pursuits. Fortunately, I’m getting better at heading these spells off at the pass when I see them coming.
Q: What are your favorite books or sites you go to for writing tips / advice?
A: The first book on writing I ever purchased was James Scott Bell’s The Art of War for Writers, and it was a Godsend. I highly recommend anything he has written on the craft. Another of my favorites is Story Engineering by Larry Brooks, a great resource for sound, fundamental story structure. And of course I’d be remiss if I didn’t shout out The Fantasy Author’s Handbook (https://fantasyhandbook.wordpress.com/), the weekly blog of author/editor extraordinaire Philip Athans. He’s a master not only of genre fiction, but also of the craft of writing.
Q: How long does it take you to write a book?
A: When I’m working on a novel and can focus on it exclusively, I think I can produce a first-draft manuscript in between one and two months from the time I sit down to write the outline. I probably spend twice that amount of time polishing, revising, and editing before I look for beta readers.
Q: Have you ever cut anything from your book and why?
A: Not often. As a plotter, I usually get the mechanics of a story down before I actually get into the actual narration. But occasionally inspiration will hit in the midst of a project, showing a better way that makes earlier choices look weak, insignificant, or repetitive. When I do cut things, I drop them into a file for possible use in other projects.
Q: Least favorite thing about writing?
A: The business end of things. All the hoops one has to jump through in the querying process can be dispiriting. I know there’s a secret code that agents and editors use to describe what they’re actually looking for in the slush pile, and I think I’m getting close to cracking it. But, I made the choice to go the traditional-publishing route, so I have accepted the process for what it is.
Q: What do your friends and family think about you being a writer?
A: I imagine they think it quaint or “cute” as it rarely comes up in conversation. My dad is proud of me, though, which is only fitting as it was his monster magazines that used to give me nightmares as a kid.
Q: Most important things a writer should spend money on?
A: This is another tough one for me as I’m a cheapskate who lives a thrift-store lifestyle. I know I’d like to buy myself a really comfy chair and possibly a new computer with an ergonomic keyboard. That might increase my output, but it might also lead to an increase in my body mass.
Q: Least important things a writer should spend money on?
A: Anything that might prove a distraction and keep you from putting words on the page.
Q: How do you measure your success as a writer?
A: If my most-recent story is better than the last one, then I count myself successful. I’d love to be able to put gobs of money in the bank doing this, but sadly, I believe the days of the mega-rich writer are coming to a close as we move toward a post-literate society. With everyone waiting for the movie, video game, or TV adaptation, book and magazine sales are not what they once were and publishers are willing to risk less on new talent. Which makes agents even more choosey in taking on new clients. In this environment, I define my success one story at a time.
Q: What advice would you give to yourself if you were starting the writing journey again?
A: You’re not as good as you think you are. Yes, you’ve got a vivid and outlandish imagination, but you can’t wing this. Writing is an actionable skill just like auto mechanics or computer programming, the more you do it and the more you study it, the better you get. That’s it. There are no shortcuts, so get to learning and get to writing.
As a reader –
Q: What is your favorite genre(s)? Tell us more about why you love them?
A: I love historical fiction and old-fashioned pulp adventures. As for the historical stuff, I’ve always been enamored with military history and other cultures, so when I can learn about them while sinking my teeth into the works of Bernard Cornwell, Sharon Kay Penman, Erich Maria Remarque, and James Clavell, it’s a win-win for me.
On the pulp side, I really dig traditional heroic fantasy, where the daring good guy overcomes nigh impossible odds to beat the dastardly bad guy, such as in the works of Robert E. Howard, Lester Dent, Michael Moorcock, and Fritz Leiber. Even when their “good guys” weren’t necessarily of the white-hat variety, you always knew who the “bad guy” of the story was, and he usually got what was coming to him in the end.
Q: Have you ever skipped something important to stay at home and read a book? Details please!
A: Maybe not so much lately, but I know one time when I was in high school I spent an entire Thanksgiving family get-together hidden away reading Captain Blood. I also recall one summer trip to the pool where I refused to get in the water because I was too busy reading the rulebooks for the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Ravenloft boxed set I had just picked up.
Q: What is your favorite book quote?
A: Gosh, just about anything from Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker books. I’ll go with: “‘This must be Thursday… I never could get the hang of Thursdays.’” I’m fond of it because this has always applied to Tuesdays for me for some reason.
Q: Favorite book hero and / or villain and why?
A: I think my favorite hero would have to be Taran from Lloyd Alexander’s The Prydain Chronicles, because when I started reading those books in the sixth grade, Taran and I were about the same age. Over the course of those books I watched him rise from a goofy, immature “assistant pig keeper” to the humble and heroic High King of Prydain, overcoming all manner of supernatural and military foes as well as his own personal foibles along the way. (As a side note, the Princess Eilonwy was my first literary crush.)
My favorite villain has to be Dracula because he is the greatest literary villain of all time. At once timeless and ever-changing, he is the one character who can be all things to all readers in all times. I dream of one day creating a big-bad that can approach Dracula’s level of influence. No doubt he has been the inspiration for countless villains in thousands of books written over the past hundred odd years.
Q: Your most influential book(s)?
A: All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque has had a profound influence on me as a person, if not as a writer (though I would like to think it has). Dumas’s Musketeer books, the aforementioned Prydain Chronicles, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, and Michael Moorcock’s Elric Saga all come to mind, as well.
Q: Tell us what you are currently reading and your verdict so far?
A: David McCullough’s 1776. I’m almost finished and find it thoroughly engrossing. In fact, I think it should be required reading in U.S. public school American History classes. I’ve got the latest installment of Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Tales, Sword of Kings lined up next, and I can’t wait to dive into it headfirst.
Q: If you could have a signed copy of a book by an author (dead or living) what book would it be and why?
A: Ooh, another tough one. I think I’m going to go with a collection of Solomon Kane stories by Robert E. Howard. I don’t know why, but I’ve always preferred the Puritan Swordsman to Conan and Howard’s other Hyperborean heroes, possibly because of my interest in the Elizabethan/Thirty-Years War era.
R.E.H. has become something of an icon for me, and I’d like to think that, since I started my writing career so late in life, that I’m picking up the mantle where he so tragically left off far too young. I know this notion is self-flattery, but it’s also a means of pushing myself to be the best storyteller that I can be. When I compare myself to Howard, I know I’ve got very big shoes to fill.
About the book –
Q: You are living in your latest novel. Where are you living, and what is it like?
A: The Seattle-Tacoma area, the summer of 1947. It would be a nice place to live if not for all the weird lights in the sky.
Q: You are your most recent protagonist. What do you like doing for fun? What do you hate doing and why?
A: Elzebad Summers has been through hell and back in World War II, and now has a lot of responsibilities as the team leader for Project Notebook, so when he gets a chance to unwind, he can over-do it. Drinking beer with the boys and playing darts at the local honky-tonk until closing are probably his biggest vices, but all things being equal, he’d be just as happy taking a leisurely drive through the country in his new convertible… As for what he hates doing, I’d say mowing the yard because so do I.
Blurb for Project Notebook:
In July of 1947, the skies above the state of Washington were filled with strange lights and unidentified objects. When PROJECT NOTEBOOK is dispatched to investigate the Maury Island Incident, the first encounter with the unknown scatters the team across Seattle and Tacoma suffering from amnesia and stalked by mysterious forces.
Jason J. McCuiston has been a semi-finalist in the Writers of the Future contest and has studied under the tutelage of best-selling author Philip Athans. His stories of fantasy, horror, science-fiction, and crime have appeared in numerous anthologies, periodicals, websites, and podcasts. Project Notebook published by Tell-Tale Press is his first novel.
Amazon page: https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B07RN8HT98