March 20, 2009
Interview with John Marco
John Marco is the author of several fantasy novels, including THE EYES OF GOD and STARFINDER. As of Monday he has been published for ten years. You can find out more about him on his blog and MySpace. (That is if you don't consider my interview an excellent source of information. In other words, keep reading.)
1. Your May release, STARFINDER, is YA. Why make the switch?
Well, it’s not a permanent switch. I’m still writing books for older readers as well, but I’ve wanted to write a YA book for a long time, really from the time I started writing. I always envisioned writing lots of different kinds of things. Plus, I think there are some stories that are better to tell from a younger perspective. Older readers aren’t more sophisticated—I don’t believe that for a second—but they are more jaded, and perhaps less willing to accept the fanciful. I could do things in STARFINDER that I couldn’t do in my other fiction, or at least couldn’t do it the way I wanted to do it.
2. Do you think writing for a young adult audience is different? How (or how not)?
I’m still new to writing for young adults, so I’ve still got a lot to learn, but my basic answer is yes and no. Okay, that’s kind of a cop-out, so I’ll try to explain. Everyone wants a good story. That’s the basis of all good fiction, no matter the age of the audience. So that doesn’t change. But what I had to do for STARFINDER was get in the heads of the two main characters, who are a lot younger than me, and tell the story from their perspective. Beyond the fantasy and adventure elements of the story, I had to write about things that they would care about, because I want readers—both young and old—too be able to relate to them.
The other thing I did in STARFINDER was tone down the level of violence. The books I wrote before had a decent amount of death and blood in them, and I didn’t want that for STARFINDER. What I found, though, was that I had to get much more creative with those concepts. I couldn’t just casually kill someone in battle. I had to choose the violence more carefully, and present it in a way that had some meaning. That was more challenging than I thought it would be.
3. What drew you to write fantasy? Were you ever afraid people would take you less seriously?
I always knew I wanted to write fantasy, from the very time I decided to become a writer. That was when I was very young. I wasn’t into spy novels or anything else—just science fiction and fantasy. It totally captured my imagination, and it still does. I’ve tried writing in other genres, just to see if I could do it, but the results were never anything worth pursuing. Now I just stick to writing what I love.
There are people who think fantasy is frivolous and don’t take it seriously. That doesn’t bother me nearly as much as it used to. In some cases they’re right—some fantasy is frivolous, and that’s okay. Other fantasy is wonderfully deep and provocative, and the sad thing is some folks will never avail themselves of it. Others don’t even realize that some of the books they love are fantasy. Fantasy is such a wide genre that almost everyone loves something about it, even if they don’t realize it.
4. What are some of your hobbies? What is the number one thing you love to do in your free time?
I spend pretty much all of my free time with my wife and my young son, Jack. That’s how I like it. We do a lot together, simple things mostly like going to the park or to the mall or playing video games. I have a very unglamourous life! I’ve never had many hobbies, but I do like hiking and fishing because they get me out of the house and outside with wildlife. On the other hand, I’m also addicted to Top Chef and American Idol.
5. What did you learn that was valuable while you were in high school?
Wow, high school was a long time ago for me! My son is too young to read this, so it’s safe for me to admit here that I hated school. I couldn’t wait to be done with it. I had some good teachers though, and some good friends too. But I never had a lot of friends at any one time. I wasn’t a “clique” person. So here’s something I learned that I keep with me to this day—you don’t need a lot of friends. Just one or two is fine, as long as they’re good friends that you can trust. And that holds true when you get older, too. It’s easy to make tons of acquaintances online, but friends are more than that. Choose them well.
6. Are any of your characters harder to write than others? Why?
I’d say the good guys are hard for me to write. I love writing villains and try to make them interesting and multi dimensional. But straight out good guys are usually kind of boring, so I often give them character flaws to make them more interesting. Sometimes that backfires though, because it’s not what readers expect. I also find it tough to write about female characters. Being a guy, I freely admit that I don’t know what makes women tick.
7. Do you outline, pants it, or some combination of both? What do you need to do before you start writing a novel?
I’m a BIG proponent of outlining. I’ve talked about this a lot on my blog and in interviews over the years. I know that there are fine writers out there who never outline, who just wing it, but that’s not for me at all, and I don’t think writers who are starting out on their first novel should try flying blind either. I need a complete roadmap of the story written down before I ever write the first word of a novel. That way, I know not only where the highpoints of the action will take place, but also what the themes of the book are and how I want to reveal them to the audience.
8. Your site bio says you're interested in Disney World. How many times have you been? What's your favorite ride? What's the coolest bit of trivia you've found?
Disney World is my Achilles heel, my big indulgence in life. I went first when I was a little boy back in the early 70s. I was too young to remember much about it, but then my wife and I went back in 1999 and I was blown away. Seriously, I didn’t want to leave. I remember brooding in the airplane on the way home, wondering when we could go back. We’ve been back so many times since then I’ve lost count. We just got back from a trip in November and we’ll be heading back again in a few months.
I’m not a fan of thrill rides, so my favorites are all the old fashioned, classic attractions like Pirates of the Caribbean and Peter Pan’s Flight. I do like Space Mountain though, which is sort of thrilling.
Because I’m such a big aviation buff, the trivia that I really love is about an old attraction called “If You Had Wings.” It was sponsored by Eastern Airlines (one time the “official” airline of Disney World—there’s some trivia for you), and it’s one of the only attractions that I remember from my first trip there when I was a little boy. It’s gone now, so I’ll never get to ride it again, but I do have the theme song from it on my computer and I still listen to it now and then.
9. What are some of your favorite YA books? Fantasy? Other?
My all time favorite YA book, if you could call it that, is Catcher in the Rye. The first time I read it was way back in high school and, predictably, I hated it back then. Years later a girl I liked gave me a copy of it because she told me I reminded her of Holden Caulfield. Of course I reread it immediately and loved. There’s tons of good YA fiction today it’s impossible to know where to start. I love the books by Sharon Creech, and there’s an old YA book by Clive Barker called “The Thief of Always” that’s one of my favorites. Hands down, my favorite fantasy book of all time is “The Mists of Avalon.” Other all time favorites are Jaws, All Quiet on the Western Front, and Robert Heinlein’s Friday.
10. How would you describe STARFINDER without quoting from the blurb?
To me, STARFINDER is a clash between Jules Verne and Narnia. That’s how I pictured it when I was writing it. On one hand is the world of humankind, struggling with new technologies like airships and electricity. On the other hand is this magical world that shuns humans and technology. And then you have these two kids, the main characters, who are torn between both worlds. That’s the “big picture” that I hope readers come away with after they’ve read it.
So, do ya'll think fantasy is frivolous? Personally, I love it - from the fluffy stuff to the hardcore. And if STARFINDER sounds interesting to you, you're in luck. John is offering two signed copies - the only catch is you'll have to wait for it to be released in May. Oh yeah, and you have to follow the rules.