I had the chance to interview the talented author J. Young-Ju Harris so I figured why not start a series playing 20 Questions with fellow authors. He recently just published his debut novel Nine Tails – Episode 1: Of Faeries and Demons, while not busy carving his niche in the Urban Fantasy genre in the literary world he provides some valuable writing insights, reviews, and informative posts over on his BLOG.
So, let’s dive in, pick his brain & play 20 Questions.
1. What inspired you to write “Nine Tails”?
The original idea, which didn’t really end up making it into the current iteration of the story, came to me while I was helping to clean out my grandmother’s home. She was a hoarder, but as a fantasy author I imagined the scenario of finding something magical in the mess of her house.
That gave me the motivation to explore the folklore of (part of) my heritage a little bit and start writing fantasy stories based on Korean myth. Prior to that I was working on a lot of projects based on the typical Western fantasy Lord of the Rings type stuff. This was a fun new direction to explore.
2. Why did you choose the path of Self-Publishing?
When I first started pursuing this idea of being an author, I assumed that once I got a book sold to a publishing house, I wouldn’t have to worry about any of the marketing. That was the part I was least certain about, and I figured they would take care of it. But what I learned was that first time authors are expected to market themselves anyway in traditional publishing. The budget for promotions really goes to the authors who have a track record of sales.
Since I had to do the marketing whichever route I took, I started looking more into self-publishing. Eventually I settled on that route because it allowed me to have more freedom with my format choice. I’ve always been a very succinct writer (I was the kid in class who could never hit the page minimums for assignments because I could say what needed to be said in so few words), and I enjoy the serial format, so I decided to go the self-publishing route so that I could write short story and novella series as opposed to full novels.
3. Do you have any advice for other writers looking to pursue Self-Publishing?
Nine Tails is the first thing I’ve self-published, and I’m still really learning about all the ins-and-outs of the process myself, but my advice would be to research it. There are a lot of resources out there from podcasts to books that can give you some insight into what successful authors have done. I think it’s important to have some idea of what those methods are when you decide to pursue the self-published route. You can’t just put your book up on Kindle and expect it to sell.
4. What inspired you to become an author & has it always been your dream?
I remember first wanting to become an author in elementary school. I think part of it had to do with my love of story as well as my love of daydreaming. I mean, what other profession can pay you to take your daydreams and write them down?
There were other things I wanted to do along the way, so I’m not sure I would say it was always my dream, but it has proven thus far to be the interest I’ve stuck with where other things have sort of fallen off.
5. Where’s your favorite space to write?
I don’t know that I have a favorite space, but I like writing at night. There’s a certain magic in creating while the rest of the world is asleep. I find it freeing.
6. What are your top 5 must haves for a writing space?
I like having a drink, like coffee, tea, or soda, so ideally this space would allow that to happen.
I need a table of some kind and empty space around me. I’m not the sort of person who writes on the subway or on a plane. I don’t like having people right next to me when I write; it feels like they’re snooping.
I don’t mind some noise, like in a cafe, but it can’t be overwhelming. I don’t generally listen to music or anything like that, but sometimes some of that background white noise can help with focus and quieting my own thoughts.
Being able to step away from the internet and that set of distractions is important, so I prefer not to have a computer or phone super close by if possible.
I like a space that feels large, whether that’s because it is physically large or near windows that give it kind of an airy feel. If the space feels too cramped, I feel less creative for some reason.
7. How many hours a day do you write?
I don’t write fiction every day. I try to write fiction most weekdays, and I try to write for about three hours on those days. Currently I freelance, and more recently I was working more heavily on my fiction projects, so I was able to create the time without having to worry about a specific job schedule. I’m thankful to have that sort of luxury, I know most don’t.
8. Are you a Plotter, a Panster or a Planster?
Haha, I’ve never heard of a “planster” before, but I actually think that describes me pretty well. I need to have an idea of what I’m writing when I sit down to work, but I can’t know too much. I actually had a very thorough outline for an earlier novel length iteration of Nine Tails, but I could never get myself to write the story because I felt like I’d already done it by completing the outline.
I need to know where the story goes, and when I’m working on a scene, I need to have a strong sense of what is going on before I can really get words on the page, otherwise I will just sit there and stare at my paper. But there always has to be an element of discovery. Without that, I think the whole process gets boring.
9. Because I have a pretty Type-A personality, I’m always curious about other peoples scheduling methods. So, Do you schedule out your life, writing & do you use paper or electronic planning?
I do schedule, though I’m still sort of working towards that optimal daily schedule. That might be a battle I never win. I flip flop a lot around the issue of when I work best. Currently I’m on a night owl schedule where I do fiction writing at night and content (my blog) or freelance writing during the day. We’ll see how long I stick with this.
I have a bullet journal that I write my schedule out in as well as a Word doc where I try to keep different scheduling ideas, both daily and long-term. Generally I prefer to hand write things, but it’s nice to have stuff stored digitally too.
10. What is your favorite part about the writing process?
The idea generation. The stories, settings, and characters are what I’m most interested in. Coming up with those is really the best part. I’m actually not the biggest fan of the mechanics of writing. It’s a way to convey the ideas I’ve come up with, but it can be quite tedious.
11. What is your least favorite part about the writing process?
Probably writing that first draft. Making headway onto the blank page is tough, and almost always disappointing. The ideas I have are so great in my head, and then as I try to organize them on paper that first time, they inevitably come out far less grand. That’s always sort of humbling and frustrating.
12. How long on average does it take you to write a book?
It’s taken me several years to pull Nine Tails together (and I think I can count Episode 1-5 as essentially a book). That had more to do with my tendency to rework ideas and hop to different projects than my ability to put words on a page. I imagine my future projects will go much more quickly. Having spent a fair amount of time brain storming different ideas and settings, I have some solid material to pull from that I think I could organize into a story more quickly.
13. What’s your biggest internal obstacle in getting your writing done?
I’m really bad with procrastinating. I’ve always been this way. I was the guy who did all of my homework assignments right before they were due. The pressure of the deadlines always forced me to get the work done, obviously, but I think it also helped in terms of making the work better.
Unfortunately this approach doesn’t work for fiction writing. It’s really a marathon, not a sprint, and you have to set your own goals. No one is going to hold you accountable. You’re not going to fail out of school if you don’t get the story done on time; it just doesn’t happen.
14. What’s your biggest external obstacle in getting your writing done?
Probably computer screens. I’ve found more and more that sitting in front of a screen sort of drains me, at least when it comes to being creative. I can churn out blog posts and other sorts of content, but if I want to write something that’s more imaginative, I’ve found more and more it’s better for me to write it by hand.
15. Do you believe in writer’s block? If so, how do you overcome it?
I don’t believe in writer’s block as this strange mystical force that stops people from writing. But there are always times when a scene is difficult to write for whatever reason. I think the best thing to do is to start breaking down the troubling part of the story and asking questions about it. Get more specific, maybe outline the scene or delve more into your character outlines or setting outlines and try to find the new details that will spark ideas.
16. Does writing energize you or exhaust you?
Personally I find writing to be exhausting. This isn’t a bad thing necessarily. It’s definitely rewarding, but whenever I’m done with a session I feel sort of drained…in a good way (assuming the session was productive, haha).
17. Best piece of advice for other writers?
There are of course the standard things like read more books, write every day, etc. But I think a piece of advice that people don’t state enough, in my opinion, is that you should really try to say something with your writing.
Stories are how we communicate our cultural values. No matter how frivolous your story might seem, you are passing on ideas about what you think our culture and our values are or should be when you’re sharing it, even if you don’t realize it. I think more authors have to take that into consideration.
18. What is your Favorite quote about writing?
“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” – W. Somerset Maugham
19. Which authors are your biggest inspirations?
I have to start by mentioning Brian Jacques, author of the Redwall fantasy series, since those were the first books I read and really loved. That series was the first thing that inspired me to want to tell stories.
I really love Neil Gaiman’s work, I think that he’s a great storyteller and has a very distinct voice. I love the way that he weaves myths and fantasy into contemporary settings.
I’ve been really inspired by William Gibson and Neal Stephenson, specifically for Neuromancer and Snowcrash respectively. They were the first speculative fiction authors I read whose work was very highly stylized, and I really enjoy that usage of prose. I’m guilty of this myself, but I think, especially with the dominance of YA, that there’s been a lot of weight put on character and plot, and it’s great to read stories where the words and the style are just as important as those other ingredients.
Most recently I’ve been very impressed with the work of Paolo Bacigalupi. I think he writes really great political sci-fi that doesn’t hit you over the head with its message. He has important things to say, but he never loses sight of the story. I aspire to one day be able to tell meaningful stories in a similar way.
20. What are you currently working on now?
Right now I’m finishing up Episodes 2 – 5 of Nine Tails. I’m guessing by the time this interview goes live, Episode 2 will be available on Amazon. The whole series is a projected 15 episodes, but I’m going to be taking a break after the first 5 episode arc for a little bit.
I’m planning on working on a vampire series (cliché, I know), but I haven’t figured out what format I want to use for it yet. I may write it as a short story series on Kindle, or I may release it as a web-serial, another format I’ve been looking into recently that I find interesting.
Go engage with him on his social media. Seriously. He’s an awesome individual and incredibly talented writer.