Back with a new interview! Today I bring you one with J. D. Cunegan for your viewing pleasure, so I hope you guys enjoy 🙂 He’s awesome, go check out his work!
First of all, tell me about yourself! What do you write?
First of all, thank you for having me!
My name is Jeff (though I write under the name J.D. Cunegan) and I live in southeastern Virginia. I’m the author of the Jill Andersen mystery/superhero series (Bounty, Blood Ties, Behind the Badge, Behind the Mask, Betrayal), as well as the contemporary fantasy Notna and the short story collection Legends of the Gem. I’m self-published, and I published my first novel, Bounty, in 2015.
I’ve been writing since I was 11, when I discovered my first comic book. I’ve been a comics and genre fiction fan ever since, and growing up, I had designs on being a comic book artist. But somewhere along the way, I became a much better writer than artist, and in college, I began a career in sports media. Even as I wrote for newspapers and worked as a radio broadcaster, I kept plugging away at my stories (Bounty and Notna were both created when I was in high school), and what were originally supposed to be comic books are now novels.
I’m a 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University in Virginia, and aside from reading and writing, my big passion in life is auto racing. I love motorsports, as well as baseball and hockey.
How do you develop your plots and characters?
I develop my characters before I do anything else. In the ongoing debate of character vs. plot, I’m firmly on the character side. To me, vibrant, memorable characters can carry or make up for a lackluster plot, but a strong plot cannot overcome drab, forgettable characters. If a writer can get me to care about the characters, then they can get away with (almost) anything.
I try to frame my stories using character-centric questions. Instead of “what if this happened?” or “Wouldn’t it be cool if this happened?” I prefer to ask such questions as “What would Jill (Andersen, the protagonist of my series) do if confronted with this?” or “How would Jill react to her brother running for District Attorney?” If I keep the questions character-focused, I never lose sight of them in my writing.
Plot is absolutely important, but characters are why we fall in love with stories.
Tell us about your current project.
I’m currently writing Bitter End, which will be the sixth book in the Jill Andersen series. Don’t let the title fool you, though; this will not be the end of the series. But it will signal the end of the current villain, billionaire David Gregor, and the arc surrounding him. Given that, and a few other things that are going to happen in this book, Bitter End seemed like an appropriate title. If everything works out, Bitter End should be out before the end of the calendar year.
Is this your first entry into SPFBO? If not, how many times have you entered?
This is my first entry into SPFBO, and I want to thank Michael Evan for setting this up for me.
Who would you say is the main character of your novels? And tell me a little bit about them!
For my series, Jill Andersen is the protagonist. When we meet her, she’s a homicide cop in her hometown of Baltimore, and then we discover she’s also the costumed vigilante Bounty. She’s wanted to be a cop her whole life, following in the footsteps of her father Paul. She has a younger brother, Brian, who is the city’s Assistant DA, and when the series starts, they’re at odds with each other – their father is on Death Row, having been convicted of three murders. Jill is convinced of his innocence; Brian is not. Jill is also headstrong and stubborn, almost to the point where she has tunnel vision at times, but she can also be incredibly caring and loyal to those she cares about. She’s heavily influenced by such characters as Sara Pezzini (Witchblade) and Kate Beckett (Castle).
In Notna, Texas A&M archaeology professor Dr. Jack Corbett is the protagonist. He’s skeptical of the Gem of Notna’s existence, initially refusing the Smithsonian’s offer to retrieve the gem. But he discovers the gem and ends up being its new host, the Chosen One as foretold by the Narazniyan Scrolls – which means he’s now in the middle of a centuries-old war between the Divine and the Underworld for the fate of the world. He’s intelligent, relies heavily on verifiable evidence, and he’s (surprisingly to me) the sort to just roll up his sleeves and get stuff done. He’s not one to wait around and let others take control of things; especially once the dead bodies start piling up, Jack is all about bringing the war to Seraphus (the ruler of the Underworld). He relies heavily on his allies and isn’t above being proven wrong.
What advice would you give new writers on how to delve into creative fiction?
Just write. Getting words on the page is the most important thing you can do. I forget who originally said this, but it’s so true: you can fix a bad page, but you can’t fix a blank page. Don’t worry about publication, or book covers, or editing, or any of that stuff – for right now, just get the words out. All that other stuff will have a time and a place, but worrying about them before the draft is complete will just wear you out and overwhelm you.
Also, read. Read read read read. Reading is essential to writing. Don’t just read things similar to what you’re writing, either; read different genres, read non-fiction, read newspapers and magazines and blog posts. The more you read, the more tools you give yourself to improve your writing. It’s possible to be a successful productive writer without reading, but it’s much more difficult.
What real-life inspirations did you draw from for the worldbuilding within your book?
My series takes place in Baltimore, so I use the real-life city for much of my work. I almost always keep a map of the city open when writing one of the books in the series, and I’m constantly drawing on my experiences in visiting the city – particularly downtown and near the Inner Harbor. When I first created the series, I wanted a big city that wasn’t the typical New York, Los Angeles, or Chicago, and Baltimore – with its high homicide rate and corruption – was a perfect fit.
For Notna, I relied heavily on pagan lore, while also taking liberties when possible since the book was not meant to be an endorsement or indictment of one religious path over another. I’m not a particularly religious person, but so much lore and mythology from the various faiths of the world can be great inspiration for storytelling.
What inspires you to write?
At this point, I can’t remember a point in my life when I wasn’t a writer. Writer is as much a part of my identity as man or brown hair or glasses. I’ve always been a creatively expressive person, and whereas a lot of that expression used to come from drawing and art, I find great solace and joy (and frustration) from the written word. Society as a whole may not value the written word much anymore, but there’s still magic and power in it.
What was the hardest part of writing this book?
Betrayal was difficult to write; it took five tries before I finished the first draft. Much of it was the realization that I can no longer get away with pantsing; I had to create an outline for the fifth rewrite before everything finally stuck. Building on the events of previous books and using them to take characters in new, unexpected directions was harder than I thought it would be, especially when trying to make sure characters and storylines that were now five books old weren’t getting stale.
What is your routine when writing, if any? If you don’t follow a routine, why not?
I try to write my books chronologically. Beginning, middle, and end. But sometimes, I do find myself jumping around. I use a light, bare-bones outline (with a method I learned from Libbie Hawker’s book Take Off Your Pants!) to guide me; I write in Scrivener, because the organizational tools it provides keep me on track. Once the first draft is complete, I do nothing for two weeks. Then I go through two different edits (one for spelling and grammar, one for plot holes and continuity), with two weeks in between each, before handing it off to an editor. While the editor’s working on my manuscript, I start the process of getting a cover, and when the manuscript is returned to me, I do two more edits (one to work on the editor’s notes, then one last spelling/grammar check) before formatting and getting ready for publication.
What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why?
I love writing the quiet moments between the chaos; scenes and chapters where the characters can just sit back, enjoy each other’s company, and be themselves. I learn so much about my characters writing scenes like these, and they also give me as the writer a chance to sit back and catch my breath. Books can’t go a hundred miles a minute all the time, and these breathers are vital – both for me and for my characters.
Did you learn anything from writing this book and what was it?
Betrayal taught me the value of an outline. It doesn’t even have to be all that detailed or broken down chapter by chapter. Even the barest of road maps, two points with a line between them, can be incredibly helpful – especially when juggling so many characters and several different story threads.
Are you a plotter or a pantser? A gardener or an architect?
I used to be a pantser, but in recent years, I’ve learned the value of having something resembling an outline. Especially when dealing with my series, where I have to keep continuity from book to book, simply opening my word processor and winging it just wasn’t cutting it anymore. And though I can’t stand detailed, chapter-by-chapter outlines (they suck the fun out of writing for me), having even the barest of road maps handy has proven extremely valuable.
It’s sometimes difficult to get into understanding the characters we write. How do you go about it?
I don’t try to control them. Yes, they’re my creations, but they are very much their own people with their own desires and motivations, and I find I have the hardest time writing when I’m trying to control them instead of letting them do what they’re gonna do. Sometimes, my characters surprise me (Jill at the end of Behind the Badge is a perfect example of this), but I enjoy that, because if I’m surprised, then chances are my readers will be surprised. If I let the characters take control, they might not always do what I want them to do, but I find the end result is almost always a better story than if I had stuck to my way.
What are your future project(s)?
In addition to the aforementioned Bitter End, I’m writing the script for my first graphic novel, Bounty: Origins (a comic book retelling of her origin; think of it as an AU version of the novel Bounty that plays up more on the sci-fi aspects of the novels). I’m also getting ready to launch a new series. Though Bounty and Notna are completely different books, they take place in the same universe, and I’m working on a spinoff series that will take elements of both books and blend them together. I hope to officially announce that series before the end of the summer.
What is your favorite book ever written? Who are your favorite authors?
If you mean one of my books, I’ll say Bounty – because that was the book that proved to me I’m capable of writing a story, from start to finish, and see it through all the way to publication. It’s not the best book I’ve ever written (I think that’s Blood Ties), but without Bounty, none of the others are possible.
If you mean among books I’ve read, I’m gonna go with Chuck Wendig’s Wanderers. It’s the sort of book that’s a little bit of everything; it’s such an easy read, but it’s also intimidating in scope. I’m not sure reading it *right now* is such a good idea, but it is easily the most ambitious, most all-over-the-place book I’ve ever read, and it works. Probably better than it should.
Wendig is among my favorite writers, and some of my other influences include Stan Lee, Joss Whedon (pre-Avengers: Age of Ultron), and Greg Rucka. Many of my favorite authors these days are independent or self-published: R.R. Virdi, E.A. Copen, S.E. Anderson, Madeline Dyer, Kelly Blanchard… I think indie authors are some of the most creative, most inventive writers out there, and I’m proud to be among them. The community they provide is also second to none; they’re always willing to help out, and we’re all in this to support each other, not compete with one another.
What makes a good villain?
Great villains elicit strong, visceral reactions from the reader. Whether its revulsion or hatred or sympathy, if a villain doesn’t make the reader feel something, then the narrative has failed. Not every villain needs to be sympathetic (i.e., Magneto from X-Men), nor do they all need to be completely irredeemable (like, say, The First from Buffy the Vampire Slayer). A great villain can speak to a universal truth or simply just be a real asshole. Whichever route the author takes, the villain must make the reader feel something. Otherwise, the stakes and the conflict with the hero land flat.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Reading is first and foremost, but I also enjoy videogames (just not as often as I used to), as well as watching races, baseball games, and hockey games. I’m also trying to get back into drawing; rumor has it I used to be pretty good, and I want to get back to that.
If you couldn’t be an author, what ideal job would you like to do?
I still hold out hope of one day being a comic book artist. My roots are in comics; if it weren’t for them, I probably wouldn’t be a published author by now. But that medium is my home, and I still want to get back to that one day.
You can travel to any planet or moon in the Solar System. Where would you go, why and what would you do there?
Eh… I’ve read The Martian, so as messed up as Earth is a lot of times, I think I’ll stay right where I’m at. Better the devil you know and all that.
Pick any three characters from a fiction novel. These are now your road trip crew. Where do you go and what do you do?
Vincent Graves from R.R. Virdi’s Grave Report series (because he’s a wiseass, so laughs are guaranteed), Sally Webber from S.E. Anderson’s Starstruck series (because she’s used to long trips going sideways), and Jill Andersen from my series (because she can fight us out of the trouble the other two would inevitably get us in).
Finally, what is your preferred method to have readers get in touch with or follow you (i.e., website, personal blog, Facebook page, here on Goodreads, etc.) and link(s)?
My work is available on Amazon (Kindle and paperback), BN.com (Nook and paperback), Kobo, Apple iBooks, and Scribd. I also offer signed copies for sale through my website.
I’m incredibly active on Twitter, and I’m also pretty active on Facebook. Emails are always welcome; I love interacting with my readers, as well as other authors.