Author Interview: Jason Robbins

Jason RobbinsWhen I stumbled upon Jason Robbins’ post-apocalyptic fictional blog, Soulless, I planned to read a couple of entries out of curiosity because I haven’t had a lot of exposure to fictional blogs. Instead, I found myself following every step of his anti-hero’s journey. He has created a character who should be difficult to sympathize with, but somehow you can’t help rooting for. Add to that the mystery of what triggered the apocalypse and why there are any survivors at all, and you can understand why I ignored my toddler’s cries for milk for several minutes so I could finish reading the latest entry. After marathoning all of the blog entries in one sitting, I was interested in learning about Jason’s inspiration for Soulless and how he tackles the thorny writing challenges he encounters writing for this medium.

Tell us a little about yourself.

Well, I’m a native New Yorker.  Grew up in Queens and now I live in Manhattan.  I have a day job that I won’t bore you with. Suffice it to say, creativity isn’t a big part of it.  I’ve always loved writing, and this guy I worked with, who I’m good friends with now, was actually writing a novel on the side.  He always talked about it, seemed to derive a lot of joy from the process. So I thought, what the hell, let me take a stab.  Been writing fiction in one form or another ever since.  I love it.

What was your inspiration for your blog, Soulless?

Apocalypse NYCI always wanted to write an apocalypse tale, but the market is so saturated with them now, I figured, what’s the point?  But then this idea hit me – What if the protagonist has no interest in saving humankind or propagating the species?  What if he actually, if only subconsciously, wished for the apocalypse?  What would that story look like?  I think all of us, in our darkest moments, have wished everyone would just disappear.  This story takes that mentality to the extreme.  I think it’s pretty interesting to see someone start like that and then grow into something more.

Where do you go for inspiration when you’re feeling blocked?

I don’t want to jinx myself, but I’ve never actually experienced writer’s block in the seriously debilitating sense of the term.  If anything, I have more ideas than I have time to devote to them.  But, when I’m in the middle of a story, and I’m not sure where to take the proceedings next, I usually let the characters do the work for me.  I think about what that character or someone I know like that character would do next.  What’s the next logical step that character would take?  It helps shape the story more organically than if you plan out a bunch of plot points and drag the characters kicking and screaming through them.

What’s the strangest thing that has ever inspired you?

It’s funny, I had started writing the first post for Soulless, and I was walking down the street – don’t really remember where I was headed – and I came upon this sign someone had put up against a work-fence.  You run into weird things all the time in New York; in this case, someone had scrawled “What if when you die, they ask how was heaven?” on a piece of cardboard and propped it up.  And there were people streaming by all around me, but it happened that no one was right in front of this thing, so I took a picture, and it really looked like the city had been abandoned and someone left this sign there.  And that’s how I came up with the idea for the Messenger, one of the major antagonists in Soulless, a killer that leaves cryptic religious messages around post-apocalyptic Manhattan.  I even posted the pic on the site as his first message.

Tell us about an inspirational figure in your life.

My little cousin Alexis is the inspiration for the character of Emily in Soulless.  She’s a bit older than Emily now, but she’s adorable, charismatic, smart as a whip, and a brilliant writer for her age.  I’m a flawed person, but whenever I’m around her and her brother, Jesse, I always strive to be the best version of me that I can be.  I figure if anyone could bring out the good in my protagonist, it would be someone like Alexis.

What are some words that you live by?

I think Van Wilder said it best when paraphrasing Elbert Hubbard: “You shouldn’t take life too seriously.  You’ll never get out of it alive.”   If you’re looking for some words to write by, you can’t go wrong with Alfred Hitchcock’s “Drama is life with the dull bits cut out.”  I always try to keep that in the back of my mind while writing, and it helps streamline the stories immensely.

Is there anything else you would like us to know?

Yes, if you have a writer in your life, be gentle.  It’s not easy putting yourself out there in front of family, friends and the public.  Your support can give them the courage to endure and to succeed.

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Author Interview: K.N. Lee

K.N. LeeThe first author in my new interview series is K.N. Lee, a talented up-and-coming young writer who has already self-published a novel, a book of short stories and a book of poetry. Her work, which is both creative and achieves a depth of emotion, is riveting. I’ll also admit that I’m drawn to her newest novel because it stars a strong female heroine who can take care of herself (and kick a little butt when the occasion calls for it, too). Clearly, she knows quite a bit about how to channel her muse.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I was born in Chicago, Illinois, raised in Atlanta, and currently live in Charlotte. I discovered my love for writing when I was in the second grade. Obsessed with books, I decided to create my own. I’d write a story, draw the pictures, and then cut up cardboard and wrap it in wall paper to make my book a hard back. It was the only thing I enjoyed. You’d have to force me to play outside. I just wanted to write!

What was your inspiration for your newly released novel, The Chronicles of Koa?

The Chronicles of KoaThe inspiration for Koa came from a nightmare that I had. Not only that, but I love characters that may look small and nonthreatening, but can indeed be the most dangerous person in the room. There are many factors that went into creating The Chronicles of Koa. I grew up an Anne Rice fan, and I fully believe that she has the best vampire lore. So, what did I do? I created my own version of vampire, completely re-imagined. I didn’t stop there. As a high-fantasy fan and writer, I also created my own creatures and classes. Syths, Scayors, War-Breeders, Jems…they add an unexpected element to the story. You’ve never heard of them before, so the intrigue is heightened in my story.

Where do you go for inspiration when you’re feeling blocked?

Whenever I’m feeling blocked, I do a variety of things. Sometimes I’ll take a nice long walk with my iPod and my dog. Other times, I’ll take a yoga class or play video games (believe it or not, but video games are excellent inspiration!) Above all, I always go back to my desk and simply…write. It may feel forced at times. You may feel like it is a chore, but for me, I usually end up surprised by what I come up with. That blocked feeling has been conquered!

What’s the strangest thing that has ever inspired you?

Umm…OK…here goes. I had an experience with what I feel was a ghost. I was a child, and as I look back at the experience, I am no longer sure what happened. All I know, is that something grabbed my leg when I was trying to fall asleep. That moment, as horrifying, and as quick as it happened, started a traumatizing period in my life. I didn’t tell anyone what happened for years, for fear that whatever had grabbed me might still be watching me, and might try again. So, I took that fear and used it to my advantage. In silence, I instilled that feeling of absolute terror and let my characters use it. Such a real emotion gave my characters life.

Tell us about an inspirational figure in your life.

Tolkien is such an inspiration. He showed us that you don’t have to recycle the same creatures that have been used for centuries, and created his own. I do this myself. I may use elves sometimes, or vampires, but I also create my own creatures. In Koa, you’ll learn about Jems, War-Breeders, etc. In my high-fantasy trilogy, Rise of the Flame, you’ll see Tryans. The power of creation is exactly why I love writing so much.

What are some words that you live by?

If you have to choose between a material good or an experience, always go with the experience. Don’t get me wrong, I love to shop! However, if I have a chance to travel, see a show, or hang out with friends, I’ll always pick the latter.

Is there anything else you would like us to know?

I suppose I would like everyone to know that even though I am always cheerful, bubbly, and giggly, there is a darker, more serious, side to me that fuels my stories. I don’t hold back in my writing, and I fear that I truly live through my characters. Who knows, pick up The Chronicles of Koa, Wicked Webs, or Thicker Than Blood on Amazon…I might just surprise you.

Calling All Authors – What Inspires You?

open book2One of the reasons that I started this blog was to learn how other authors and artists find inspiration. I want to hear about your journey to creating your masterpiece – what got you started and what keeps pushing you forward. To that end, I’m inviting any authors who would like to be interviewed on my blog to contact me using the form below.

Jumping into the Rabbit Hole

Alice_in_WonderlandSince I was a kid, I have always been drawn to the story of Lewis Carroll’s (whose real name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The idea that you could be walking along in a completely ordinary world, and then fall down a hole into an extraordinary one, is mesmerizing.

At night when I can’t fall asleep, I imagine myself falling through Alice’s rabbit hole. As I drop, images flash through my mind of whatever my semi-conscious mind can dream up. Sometimes I find answers to problems in my life or in my writing, and sometimes I am just lulled to sleep by a cascade of pictures that eventually blurs together.

My favorite thing about Alice in Wonderland is Alice herself. One of her defining characteristics is her curiosity, a value that leads her down exciting paths. She isn’t afraid to say yes to something new, and as a result she meets bizarre people and explores strange lands. I have tried to imbue this quality into Valerie, the heroine of The Conjurors, and let her curiosity lead her where it will.

P3240097The real-life inspiration for Valerie is my sister, Cheryl. She has Alice’s curiosity but more brains. Some say that writers create idealized versions of themselves in their main characters, but I realized after finishing the first book in the series that I had unconsciously modeled Valerie’s personality on the most adventurous, fun, compassionate person I know. Her fans call her “Cheryl the Explorer” because she embraces traveling the world and learning about new cultures. She takes smart risks with her life and doesn’t accept the status quo. But best of all, she is kind. She’s someone who will give you the shirt off her back and has a moral compass that always points true north. I just hope Valerie can live up to the person who inspired her.

100,000 Words in 100 Days

shutterstock_77716045Lately I’ve been fighting with myself. There are so many excuses not to write every day – I have a toddler with a virus every other week, a demanding day job, and family and friends that I want to spend time with. At the end of the day I’m so tired that I feel like eking out an ounce of creativity would be like squeezing water from a rock.

But on the other hand, I’m a happier person when I write. Suddenly on my commute to work instead of being annoyed with the traffic, I’m imagining scenes that I’m working on. I feel more attuned to what’s going on around me, because I never know where inspiration might strike. And when I wake up in the middle of the night, instead of stressing about a deadline the next day, it’s because I just solved an important plot puzzle that had been nagging me.

I’ve always been a person who likes to have a solid goal, so I’ve made the decision that I will write every day, no excuses, for 100 days. With some luck, I hope to have a very rough first draft of the second book in my series completed at the end of that time. Hopefully at the end I’ll have something solid that I can edit, and my sanity will still be intact. Wish me luck.

Let the plotting begin…

A course more promising / Than a wild dedication of yourselves / To unpathed waters, undreamed shores ~William Shakespeare Winter’s Tale, Act IV, Scene 4

Life is never more interesting for me than when I’m plotting out a novel. Suddenly, everything I encounter feels like inspiration. Watching my husband beat a video game, a news article on an exciting archeological dig in Egypt, or a friend’s work horror story all fill my mind like puzzle pieces begging to be put together to show me a bigger picture.

The characters come first – a name, a face, a mannerism. Soon I’m wondering what advice they’d give me about a coworker who is trying to sabotage me, or thinking about how they would react if they woke up in a completely new world. Would they panic? Or would they relish the adventure?

Next, I sense connections between the characters, how their personalities fit together. Romance and rivalries start to emerge, and I find myself empathizing with one character above the others. I’m rooting for that person to win and be happy, logically aware I’m rooting for a figment of my own imagination, but emotionally invested anyway.

Last comes the action. This is my favorite part. On the outside, I’m living my life as usual, driving to work, sitting in meetings, cooking dinner. But as my body goes through the motions, I’m really watching a movie unfold in my mind. The movie stops and starts, rewinds and zips to the end, only to wind up back where I left off. I start to feel like I’m living two lives, one in the real world and one in my head, but I know one thing for sure. Life is thrilling and full of possibilities.

When you are writing a new story, how does your creative process begin?