For the Artists Who Like to Remain Strictly Out of the Box
J.D. Mason is the author of several bestselling novels including, And on the Eighth Day She Rested, This Fire Down in My Soul, You Gotta Sin To Get Saved, and Somebody Pick Up My Pieces. J.D. has been nominated for The Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Awards in the African American Fiction and Best Contemporary Fiction categories. Her novels have consistently been chosen as Main Selections by The Black Expressions Book Club, and her work has appeared on bestseller lists in the Dallas Morning News, Black Expressions Book Club, and on Amazon.com. J.D. Mason is the national bestselling and award-winning author of the novels and she lives with her family in Denver.
1) What made you want to become a writer? Did your desire for writing come at a young age or later on in your adult life?
I don’t know if I started out wanting to be a writer. I’ve always made up stories, though. When I was a kid, those stories played out with my dolls. As I grew older, I still loved making them up, but I had no idea how to get them out of my head and out into the world. Being a writer was a distant thought. The only black writers I knew about, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, etc., were all literary writers, and I never felt that I could tell those types of stories. I suppose I realized it was possible to tell the stories I made up when I first read Terry McMillan. I think she switched on that light for most writers of this generation. All of a sudden, we could see our own stories, lives we could relate to in the pages of books and, like other would-be writers out there, I realized that becoming a writer myself was possible.
2) What kinds of books did you enjoy reading when you were younger? What kinds of books do you find yourself drawn to reading today?
When I was younger, I read just about anything from Valley of the Dolls to Greek mythology and comic books. Now that I am a writer, I tend to read books as far removed from what I write as possible. It’s the only way I can enjoy reading. I’m reading The Blood Curse Vampire series by Tessa Dawn right now and I’ve just finished reading a great book called Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey.
3) When you’re done with your work and the novel is finished and out there for the world to read, do you ever read your own work? Have you ever re-read something you’ve written and found yourself feeling like you could’ve written a little better? How do you keep from being overly critical of your own work?
I have never been able to read one of my own books after they’ve been published. I’m far too critical of them to enjoy any of them, and always find something about them that I’d change if I could, or rewrite completely if I could. I’m my own worst critic when it comes to my books. I think most writers are.
4) I read that you’re shy and that you feel you’re not very good at self-promotion. How is it that you’ve managed to reach such a high level of success and more importantly how have you maintained that success? I for one struggle with being able to promote myself so what tips could you share with me and others like me for getting around this struggle as a writer?
I’m still not very good at self promotion, but I’ve learned to take advantage of some opportunities. Every year I make plans to attend conferences. Conferences gives a lot of readers a chance to get to know you and vice-versa. Having an online presence helps (i.e., website, a blog, etc.). Social websites like Facebook and Twitter also help to connect with readers.
5) You have quite a few titles to your credit. What is your writing routine like? Do you write everyday or at a specific time during the day? Do you outline before you begin a new project?
I don’t have a routine. How I write changes from book to book. Sometimes I outline, which helps a lot, but it’s not something I incorporate into my writing every time. Sometimes I’m a better writer in the mornings, sometimes, I write better at night, sometimes I have to make myself write no matter what time it is. As far as I’m concerned, there is no formula for writing. Every writer has to find what works for him or her, and go with it.
6) What would you describe your style of writing to be? Do you plan on venturing out into different genres of writing and if so what other genres would you want to write under?
I couldn’t tell you what my style is as far as my writing goes. My books are usually character driven, because understanding characters has always come easier to me than understanding plots, but I’m working on that. I think people are complicated and I like to relay that in my characters. I think lives are complicated and that, in most cases, what we see on the surface or how we live on the surface, is a shallow reflection of other underlying, deeper things or situations. I think that, being a creative person, it’s natural to want to change or try new things. I’ve been at this for nearly twenty years (published for 10) and yes, I hope that I can change as a writer. Beautiful, Dirty, Rich is a venture in a new direction. It was my intention in that book to stay true to my women’s fiction genre, and add a “pulp” spin to it. Pulp is an old genre, but it’s making someone of a renewal, I think. BDR is more dramatic, action packed, and fast-paced than what I usually write, and the sequel, Drop Dead, Gorgeous is going to add even more of those elements. I’m also starting a new fantasy series, which I’m hoping to see in print next year. I have always loved the genre, and I am having so much fun writing it.
7) What are your thoughts about the way the publishing industry has dramatically changed within the last decade or so? Having been a self-published author as well as a traditionally published author, which do you find is more beneficial to a writer in today’s industry in order to sustain a successful career?
The industry today is completely different than when I first started in this business. Nothing is the same. Even being a self published author is different. Back then, we had to worry about getting books printed, storing boxes of them in your basement, finding distributors. We had a different kind of network back then too. There were more black bookstores, and distributors, and black bookclubs were popping up all over the place and offering the kind of support that literally turned some of us into household names. It was an amazing and wonderful time. The industry is in a flux now, and I’m not sure anybody knows what’s going to happen next. Self publishing is easier now, and I know a lot of authors who are extremely successful with self publishing, so successful, that many of them have opted to walk away from contracts with mainstream publishers, or who have even turned down offers from them. I think that it’s up to the writer as to which direction they want to take as long as they’re committed to that choice, then they have as good a chance as anyone of being successful.
8) In your opinion, has social media made it easier and more possible for writer’s today to be successful?
It’s made it easier to network and connect to readers. It’s made it easier to showcase your work, but like any marketing tool, writers have to understand that that’s all social networking is, a tool. You have to work it in order for it to work for you.
9) Based on your experiences so far within your career as a writer, what advice would you give to writers who are just beginning their journey to becoming a published author or even to writers who are struggling in their efforts to become successful writers?
I’m approached by people all the time who want help or advice on how to become a writer. Most of them don’t have a clue as to what it means to be a writer. I think that most people who don’t do it think that writing is easy, glamorous and can make you a lot of money. Writing is almost impossible work, it’s nothing close to glamorous, and you’re lucky to make any money in this business. My advice to aspiring writers is this; read. If you decide that you want to write mysteries, then read mysteries. Learn what it takes to write a good mystery, structure, pace, characterization, etc. Reading is homework for writers and there’s always, always, always homework. Research. The internet is full of information on the craft and business of writing. Learn as much as you can about the publishing world, even if you have no plans to self publish, the more you know, the better. Figure out who you want to write for (and don’t say, “I want to write for myself” unless you don’t care whether or not you sell a book). If you want to write your life story, figure out why you think it’s worth writing, and who you think will gain something from reading it. Who is your intended audience and how can you reach them. Write, even when you don’t feel like it. Get through that first draft and don’t look back until you get to the end. Don’t worry about it being bad. It will be. But it’ll be the roadmap for when the real work begins for writers-editing. And if writing is in your blood, don’t give up. Don’t let go. And keep writing even if you never see a word of it in print.
10) Do you plan on turning any of your novels into screenplays and putting them on the big screen? Have you ever given any thought to doing stage plays? Career wise, where do you think you will be in the next five years?
I have had a few producers look at my books, but none of them have ever been picked up for production by Hollywood. Someday, I might take it upon myself to try and translate one of them into a film, but I’m not film maker. I’ve written and produced several plays locally. I love the theater and the plays were all well received, but I’ve never pursued that seriously. I think I see myself working in the theater before I see myself working in film. So, we’ll see. And five years from now I see myself thoroughly immersed in writing my next fantasy series, and going strong. I hope to become the new Queen of Pulp, and a regular on the New York Times and USA Today’s bestseller lists.
11) If there was one thing about your journey as a writer that you could change, what would that be? Do you think that some of the mistakes that you’ve made along the way have helped make you an even better writer than you would’ve been without them?
Until recently, I never felt like my books really fit anywhere and because of that I have always lacked confidence in my writing. I’ve always been insecure as a writer, and I’m working on changing my attitude. I’d have been more aggressive with marketing my work in the beginning, and invested more in touring. And I’d have started out writing fantasy. I don’t believe that it’s ever too late to change, so I try and learn from my mistakes and keep it moving. If I’m a better writer, it’s because I work hard to be despite or maybe because of mistakes. But that’s never going to change. I put 120% of blood, sweat, and tears into each of my books. I always will.
12) You see artists of all areas from writers to singers and actors using their influence as an artists to incite change in one way or another whether it is becoming a spokesperson for certain causes like anti-bullying or sponsoring arts programs in school and things of that nature. If you had to use your influence as an artist in today’s society what cause or charity would it be for and why?
I wrote a short story once called the Lazarus Man in an anthology called Sleep Don’t Come Easy that centered around human trafficking. Not enough people read that story, but I wished they had because it’s one of my favorites. That’s a subject that tears at my heart and I believe needs all the support and attention that it can get. Our children, poor people, are being tortured and exploited in the worst ways, all around the world and it feels like we’re helpless to stop it.
13) There are so many ways that people define success today, whether it is having a lot of money and material possessions or simply being financially stable. What does success look like for you?
I’ve learned that you’ll never be successful if you compare yourself to others. The only person you should compare yourself with is yourself. If I set goals for myself and I achieve those goals, then I am successful. I set out to write novels and I’m doing that. I’m successful. I set out to get published and I’m published. I’m successful. I set a goal to write ten books over the course of ten years. I’ve done that, successfully. I am doing what I love and I’m successful enough at it to get paid to do it. Success, and the idea of it, is a personal thing.
14) I feel like so many of us writers, us artists in general, are made to conform to other people’s idea of what we should be. I think we creative types should be unafraid to be whoever it is that we feel we have the right to be. So what is your write 2 be? What unique quality is there about you, about your art, that you feel represents your authenticity?
I won’t be put inside a box. I won’t write only one type of book one way. I have the write 2 lead readers to the edge of something new and different. Some will follow. Some won’t. But for those that decide to come with me, I promise that I’ll try to always make it worth their while.
You can read more about J.D. Mason here http://aalbc.com/authors/jd_mason.htm