Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Interview with Debut Author Jason Walcutt

Another great interview today- this one with debut author Jason Walcutt, whose new book Gaia Hunted, is now available.

Let's find out more about him and his work.

Q. So how did this novel come to be? Was it envisioned from the start as a bigger canvas, or did it expand organically out of an idea? Please tell us a bit about the origin.

A. I had just moved to Salem, MA, which is a pretty funky city. The place is surging with great energy. In a lot of ways, it's almost a mecca for alternative beliefs and spiritual practices, and I knew I wanted to harness some of those ideas in a book.

At the same time, I had finished writing an international thriller, and I wanted to write something that contained a similar plot structure. I love addictive, page-turning thrillers. Books like Marathon Man by William Goldman and Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett are some of my favorites.

I've always enjoyed genre bending stories and novels, so I thought it would be interesting to blend these two elements: International thriller with elements of fantasy.

From this point, the next stage of the idea was inspired partly by a movie and a television show. The move was Stargate, a Sci-Fi film that came out in the 90s. There are a lot of fascinating ideas presented in both the movie and subsequent television show, but the idea that most attracted me was that of the false god. In the universe of Stargate, the Egyptian pyramids were actually built by aliens who presented themselves as gods to humans. I was drawn to the concept of religions and deities actually being something completely different than that which originally presented.

The television show is Joss Whedon's Dollhouse—a Sci-Fi show about a woman's path to self-awareness as her memory and personality are constantly erased and reprogrammed. I loved the idea of a person being able to access previously unattainable knowledge and skills. This is summed up perfectly in the movie The Matrix when Neo famously claims, “I know Kung Fu.”

From these divergent points, I weaved my idea together. As is common for me, I brainstormed the idea over a two week period—although it had probably been simmering on the back burner of my mind for a far longer period.

Q. Did you start with the germ of an idea and start writing to see where it went, or did you map a good deal out in your head (or even outline) before crafting?

A. I do a lot of outlining prior to writing. Only once, on my first novel, did I write by the seat of my pants (ie no outlining). What I produced was a dystopian novel with a plot similar to Xenophon's Anabasis, but it combined Furries and mix martial arts fighting. Needless to say, it was a hot mess which will never see the light of day.

Nowadays, I outline the entire novel. I usually write out a few paragraphs for each chapter that include the characters involved, the primary conflict in the scene, and important details that need to be included. When I get stuck on a particularly challenging chapter, I'll often extensively outline it.

Q. What do you feel is the main theme(s)?

A. There are quite few in the book, but I'll focus on two in particular.

The big theme is the idea how a weak person can become strong. The story is about Mattie, who is a young, depressed woman filled with self-doubt. It's about her discovering truths within her that eventually transform her into an enlightened, confident and powerful individual.

Another theme is the push and pull between male and female energy—so called, Ying and Yang in eastern philosophy. In GAIA HUNTED, I create a world which is divided between two groups of gods—Mother Goddesses and Father Gods. Mother Goddesses identify with love, compassion and empathy. While Father Gods represent intellect, logic and justice. The conflict between these two groups is at heart of the entire novel. 

Q. Why do you feel this is important, and what would you want a reader to take away from reading this book?

A. The primary purpose of this book is entertainment and to enjoy a good story. I do think it is possible to change our mental, physical and emotional outlooks. We unfortunately live in a world where so much of our reality is tunnel vision. Although social media has some good qualities, it unfortunately exacerbates feelings of loneliness and isolation. If this book helps a person view their life and existence differently and in a more positive light, then I think that is more important than any number of book sales I could possibly achieve.

Q. What makes a good book or engaging story?

A. A lot of long hours and hard work! But in particular, a good book for me is a fine balance between an unpredictable plot and fascinating characters. Throw in great dialogue and a vivid setting, and I think you have a best seller.

Q. Are there writers with similar themes to yours? Who are your influences (can be writers, or even artists, musicians, or others) and what is it about their work that attracts you?

A. There are many but here are some of my favorite authors and why I love them.

JK Rowling: For her ability to create believable fantasy worlds and characters that are easy to love.
Neil Gaiman: The type of writer who always keeps you guessing.
Steven King: A true master of the art—who effortlessly combines amazing plots, characters and intriguing ideas.
Margaret Atwood: A great author I love for her ability to create timeless classics that still resonate today.

Q. Is storytelling mostly entertainment, or does it serve other functions? Do you have particular goals other than telling a good story?

A. We are all protagonists in our own stories, and I think that's one of the powerful things about storytelling. We place ourselves—whether we realize it or not—into a story, and we project the story of our own life onto characters. In some ways, we know and understand fictional characters better than our family and best friends. The heroes and myths that we create in our world are shaped just as much by real people as fictional ones. That's powerful. A story takes a mirror and microscope to our own lives; it illuminates parts of us that we've never thought about.

Q. Any other goals you've set for yourself, professionally or personally?

A. My main goal right now is being the best possible father to my daughter. Needless to say, the time I've had for writing post-child is significantly less than what it used to be, but my goal for the next ten years is to put out at least one novel per year.

Q. Some writers write fast and claim not to rewrite much. Do you do this, or painstakingly revise? When you send the book off to the publisher, are you happy with it, or just tired of it?

A. For me, re-writing is the true art of the craft. My first draft of a novel is always a pile of garbage burying gems. Re-writing for me is about digging out those gems and polishing them until they sparkle. To give you an example, on my computer, I have 17 drafts of Gaia Hunted. Now, not all of them were full-on re-writes, but each draft represents a significant amount of time and energy I committed to editing and improving the novel.

When the book is done, I just know it. It's a gut feeling. It's gotten to the point where if I add or remove anything else, it's just going to make it worse. Lastly, I'm typically very proud of it.

Q. Do you have good editors, and if so, how do they help you? Do they look for particular things? Do you have different people for different editing levels?

A. I have great editors. I use a mix of family, friends, professional writers and editors who read early drafts. From friends and family, I'm generally looking for their overall impressions—do they like the characters, story and ideas? From writers, I look for feedback about craft. For example, does this conflict make sense? Or is this character necessary? From professional editors, I'm looking for the nitty-gritty—spelling, grammar, punctuation and structural mistakes.

Q. If a writer came to you for advice, how would you help?

A. Depends on what they are looking for, but I've always believed in creating community in the writing world, and it's one of my favorite things about being a writer. For a time, I was the community outreach director on the board of Mystery Writers of America, New England Chapter, and the thing I loved most was connecting different writing community and exchanging ideas. I would advise to go out and meet some other writers. Typically, they're pretty interesting people.

Q. Stories can be told by using a different medium. Can you see your book as a film, audio, etc.? How would that alter the telling?

A. Actually, the audio book is going to be available for sale soon. I was really lucky. The voice actor, Emily Frongillo, with whom I worked was incredible. She's so good that whenever I read over parts of my novel, I hear Emily's voice.

Seeing GAIA HUNTED as a movie would certainly be a dream come true! All the storytelling mediums are unique and special in their own way. I honestly don't know how it would it alter the novel seeing it as a movie, but I sure as heck want to see.

Q. What's the next step in your writing world?

A. My big goal is to finish editing the sequel of GAIA HUNTED and start writing the third book in the trilogy.

Q. Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

A. Despite not being a native speaker, I have only spoken Spanish with my daughter since she was two months old. Conversations around the dinner table have been getting interesting lately.

Q. Any other information you'd like to impart?

A. I would like to express how thankful I am to friends, family, readers and other writers for being so supportive of GAIA HUNTED! Many thanks!

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