9 October 2013

Author Interview - John Monk

Please welcome Author John Monk to the interview seat today!

Have you always had a passion for writing?

When I was in first grade, I got a poem published in the school newspaper.  I remember how it ended: “...with a beautiful spark of love.”  Even back then I thought it was sappy.  But I got so much positive attention from it that I kept writing cheesy poems and they kept publishing them.

Does what you read influence what you write and what are some of your favourite authors/books?

By around fifth grade, I started writing short stories where I grossly plagiarized Ursula Le Guin and Terry Brooks. I came up with the plots—I just stole all the names.  “Shady Vale” and “Garret Jax” and “Ged” and “the island of Roke.”  My love of these names were the beginning of my love affair with language.  In high school, when I discovered Edgar Allen Poe, I started writing long, complicated writing that would have fit better in the 19th century. These days, I like to think my writing is my own—but of course I’d be lying. All writers are a product of their literary environment. You’ll find a little Terry Brooks and Robert B. Parker peppered throughout my writing, as well as some Elmore Leonard, Neil Gaiman and Dean Koontz. And I’d be lying if I said Poe’s “...eyes have all the seeming of a demon that is dreaming” didn’t give me chills to this very day.

What are your biggest inspirations?

In a general sense, I’m inspired by beauty. Whether it’s a gorgeous woman or a great song or a really good movie, I get my inspiration from unique things. Often it’s something intangible, like a charitable deed or act of bravery—something that lifts a person, however briefly, from the plane we all exist on to regions indescribable.

When I’m sitting in traffic, I often wonder what makes something “great.”  Why does the Beach Boys song “God only knows” seize me the way it does when I hear it playing? I’m truly mystified.  And the funny thing is: this confusion gives me real hope. Do we really want a scientific answer for why things inspire us, like beauty? Or, for that matter, terrible ugliness?  When something horrific comes on the news, isn’t it better to feel the awfulness at a visceral level rather have it reduced to “a byproduct of our survival instinct which triggers an empathetic response”?

Do you have a technique in how you choose characters and/or locational settings?

Like a lot of writers, I try to write what I know.  So Centreville Virginia shows up in my published book, Kick, as well as the one I’m editing now.  I also like to write about places I’ve vacationed.  Likewise, I write about people I’ve met, though I modify them quite a bit.  Often I take several people and mash them together into a frankenperson, of sorts, picking and pairing the best parts for the needs of the story.  My buddy Rob isn’t a murderer, but the way he gets angry when he’s cut off in traffic might be just the thing for the murderer in my book. And I think my readers respond to it—they know when something seems real. An artist does his or her best work when the subject is painted from something in real life.

Do you listen to music while you are creating your masterpieces?

I don’t always listen to music, but sometimes I do.  My musical tastes range into every single category dated before 1990 (with the occasional one-off like that funny C Lo Green song).  Rap, rock, punk, disco, jazz, bluegrass, country, big band, folk, jubilee gospel, mariachi—this is the music I listen to.  It really gets my brain working to hear something out of pace from my daily, natural rhythms.  Recently I’ve gotten into Spanish guitar—wonderful stuff. There’s a scene in Kick where one of the sympathetic characters plays some Spanish Guitar. Blame the Gypsy Kings.

What do you do to stay motivated and avoid writer’s block?

When I’m having writer’s block, I read some Elmore Leonard or watch Justified on TV or anything with good writing in it.  Just like when I was a kid, nothing gets me going better than experiencing something marvelous.  It motivates me to make something marvelous too—to add something of my own to the world.  And it sure beats sitting there staring at an empty screen in frustration.

How has becoming a published author (independent or traditional) changed your perspective on life and is it everything you expected it to be? (If you are not published yet – what changes do you foresee?)

Heh, now that’s a good question. Publishing my writing without the endorsement of Big Publishing and then having to market it myself to a world of readers who don’t know I exist has been a tremendously humbling experience. Getting that official nod from a major publishing house...look, we writers like to pretend that recognition isn’t important or that we’re sitting here all self-possessed and confident in our work and all that, but at the end of the day we just want to be told how brilliant we are.  Especially from some official body of professionals, ie., “the establishment.” 

There’s a part of me that wonders if Amazon and other eBook outlets aren’t a new kind of American Idol and whether I’m not the self-publishing version of William Hung. It sure would be nice to wake up every morning to another hundred downloads of Kick.  Until then, I’ll continue to assist my ego out of bed every morning, downstairs to breakfast and then off to work. And I probably won’t stop checking my sales rank several times a day to see if something’s changed. My ego and I will get through this together.  I don’t mind—my ego carried me for the last 42 years without complaint!

What are your biggest challenges as an author?

Time.  I need time to create, time to edit, time to market, time to do interviews like this, time to go to work and do a good job.  Time to be a husband.  My wife and I want to adopt—that’s going to take time.  When we adopt, our child will need so much of my time I’m afraid I’ll have to stop writing.  So I need to get even more done now—because I won’t have any time later.

Do you have any pets?

Dorothy and I have a cat, an Old English Sheep Dog, and a white Schnauzer (a rare color, we’re told).  The Schnauzer’s name is Shadowfax—which, to any fans of Tolkien out there, has revealed to you one of my other great inspirations: the Lord of the Rings. 

What hobbies do you have outside of reading and writing?

I like to go sailing with a friend of mine, in his boat, out on the Chesapeake.  I like to go hiking once or twice a year.  I used to play an unhealthy amount of World of Warcraft—when I quit about 3 years ago, I used the time to write my first novel.  Now, looking back, I wish I could reach out and slap that WOW-playing John L. Monk.  Writing is so much more rewarding. 

Hmm, thinking of other hobbies...do potential hobbies count?  I’d really love to take up woodworking.  I think it’d be the coolest thing in the world to make a table or a chair.  One day when I’m rich and famous, maybe I’ll take a year off from writing to do that?

Where is the most exciting/memorable place you have been in the world?

When I was in college, getting my degree in anthropology, I visited the island of Malta for a study-abroad program.  Simply put, Malta’s a giant rock in the middle of the Mediterranean.  It’s cities are fortress cities.  It’s poorest people live in subdivided palaces for the Knights of Saint John. The water was an almost magical blue, and yet their beaches were littered.  A lady proprietor of a bar was worried when we were playing dominos at one of the tables and almost had a heart attack when we suggested switching to cards.  Bands walked the streets at night in a parade playing as loud as they could so a rival village could hear them coming.  Some of the band members smoked between parts or stepped in and out of bars, rejoining when it was time for them to play again. Perhaps the most shocking thing that happened was when I went looking for a boat maker so I could interview him. The boat maker and his sons almost threw me into the Mediterranean.  I didn’t speak Malti, but through hand gestures and smiles I managed to convince them I wasn’t trying to steal the secrets of their designs to sell to a competitor in the Regatta. It was a fascinating, memorable trip. 

Tell us about your latest work in progress or most recent published work…

Kick is my most recent published work.  It’s a story about a college student, Dan, who commits suicide when the girl he loves dumps him. Afterward, Dan finds himself in a strange limbo where he can remember his life so perfectly that, if he chose to, he could tell you the exact number of breaths he took in his life until the very last second of it.  Such is the perfect memory of the dead.  He’s also able to come back into the world of the living by possessing the bodies of predatory criminals:  rapists, killers, pedophiles—the worst of humanity. Whenever he does, he has complete control and his motivations for living are entirely his own.  Mostly he just lives his life again—eating out, watching movies, reading books, and going to ball games.  He also spends a lot of time trying to remain celibate. Just because a women he runs into thinks she knows him, it doesn’t give him the right to know her back (so to speak).  This sets Dan up for sometimes sad, sometimes hilarious encounters.

Before Dan is kicked out, usually in about 3 weeks, he’ll find a way to take his killer down with him, either through a police confession with an evidence dump or a self-administered bullet to the head.  One reviewer said it was kind of a cross between the TV show Quantum Leap and the show Dexter on Showtime.  I always felt the same way about it, but it’s better when a fan says so.

The working title of my latest book, still unpublished, is Thief’s Odyssey.  Unlike Kick there’s nothing supernatural in it. It’s a story about a cat burglar and his adventures: from DC to the Bahamas to Florida and then back again.  I’m reluctant to give too much away right now, but suffice to say that unlike many of the caper movies made over the years, Thief’s Odyssey was heavily researched.  The methods used to crack safes, pick locks, and disable alarms actually work.

The one thing that ties Kick to Thief’s Odyssey is they’re both told in first person narrative, and that lets my John L. Monkiness shine through.  I like stories about outcasts from society—whether through a suicide, like in Kick, or that of a criminal like the main character in Thief’s Odyssey.  I’ve thought about my fascination with outcasts, and the best I can come up with is it’s an echo of my writer’s perspective on life. On some level, I’ve written my observer-self into my stories.

You can find Kick on Amazon!


  1. Wow John, your novel sounds amazing. I'll have to check it out.

  2. Thanks for an excellent interview, Johanna and John. I'm looking forward to reading Kick I just need some of that rare commodity John was talking about - time. I'll get to it though. Don't worry about little ones taking all of your time, John. I have four children and still squeeze out the odd word. You will, too

  3. Thanks historywithatwist (if that's your real name...) :)
    Thanks Johanna! This was a great experience.