The Write Stuff – Monday, January 22 – Spotlight on J.T. Evans

J.T. Evans arrived on this planet and developed into an adult in the desolate, desert-dominated oil fields of West Texas. After a year in San Antonio, he spent a year in the northern tundra of Montana. This year-long stint prepared him for the cold (yet mild compared to Montana) climate of the Front Range of Colorado.

He has thrived in The Centennial State since 1998 with his lovely Montana-native wife and rapidly growing son. He primarily pays the bills by developing interactive voice recognition systems. Like most writers, he dreams of earning enough income via publications to drop the Day Job and prosper. His debut urban fantasy novel, Griffin’s Feather, was released in October of 2017.

J.T. rekindled his love for writing with his discovery of the Colorado Springs Fiction Writers Group in 2006. He was the president of the organization from January 2009 to January 2013. Even though he’s no longer part of the CSFWG, he has continued writing and expanding his knowledge of the business and craft.

J.T. is also a member of Pikes Peak Writers, which he joined in 2008. J.T. was elected the vice president of PPW in January of 2013, and stepped into the role of president of PPW in September of the same year. In April of 2017, he resigned from the role of president.

When not flinging code at the screen or throwing words at the wall, he enjoys role-playing games, home brewing, Cub Scouts with his son, but dislikes anything related to long walks on the beach. His favorite genres to write in are fantasy and urban fantasy, but he writes the occasional science fiction or horror short story.

J.T. once held 13 different jobs in a single year, and at the age of 15, his right arm was amputated in a violent car wreck. Don’t worry. He’s become more stable in the job area, and the arm was successfully reattached shortly after the car crash.

Today, we’re discussing J.T.’s urban fantasy, Griffin’s Feather, published by WordFire Press on October 29, 2017. He describes the novel’s premise this way:

Marcus Barber is an immortal Roman Centurion who works as a bounty hunter for the deities of the ancient world while living in modern-day San Antonio. In this fast-paced adventure, Marcus must recover an escaped griffin for Nemesis (Greek goddess of vengeance) while trying to rescue a kidnapped ice pixie of Cailleach before she melts in the southern Texas heat. If he fails at either task, Nemesis and Cailleach will battle over who owns him for the next few centuries. While embroiled in these two tasks, one of his mortal clients calls up Marcus and demands he find a missing mistress. This mistress and Marcus have their own past… a distant past that Marcus must reconcile with before his supernatural deadlines whiz past.

What do you want readers to know about your book?

I had more fun writing this novel than any other work I’ve done. I think the enjoyment I had really shines through in the prose, story, and characters. I typically write to music with headphones on to drown out the rest of the world. At one point, I was so engrossed in the story I was telling, I didn’t notice that my playlist had ended. My wife popped her head into my office and asked what music I was dancing in my chair to. That’s when I realized I danced, not to music, but to Marcus’s story that unfolded before me.

Aside from the plot, is there a story behind it?

I think the seed of my idea was that I really enjoy shows about skip tracers (also known as bounty hunters) because there is the thrill of the hunt against the most dangerous prey, humans, but typically without death involved at the end of the day. One day, I decided to write a little something about a bounty hunter, but I wanted it to be urban fantasy, not real life. This led me down the path of creating Marcus who is an immortal Roman Centurion who works as a bounty hunter for the deities of the ancient world. Things pretty much fell into place from there.

Why is your writing different from other authors in this genre?

Most urban fantasy protagonists wield some form of supernatural power that can get them into and out of trouble. Marcus’s only non-mundane power is to return from the dead, but when he does so, he’s weak as a newborn, starving, and in pretty rough shape for several weeks. This means his ability to return to the living realm isn’t much of an advantage on the tight deadlines he finds himself facing. He has to use millennia of experience, his wits, his stubbornness, and his driving desire to avoid failure to press forward in his missions.

What was your path to publication?

Griffin’s Feather was the fourth novel I wrote. I consider the first three to be my “practice trilogy” that will never be published in their current form. I’m actually working on a completely fresh rewrite of the first book to see what I can make happen there. I’ve tried the “get an agent” route through query letters and met many editors and agents at conferences. Making friends with people in the industry is what led to WordFire Press requesting the novel. I was hanging out at WorldCon (2015) with the acquisitions editor, just chatting. He asked about what I was writing at the time and I told him about Griffin’s Feather. He was immediately interested and requested the novel. One thing led to another, and Kevin J. Anderson approached me at WorldCon (2016) to make an offer on my novel.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on two things at the moment. I’m querying a sword and sorcery novel to agents, and while I wait for responses to those query letters, I’m actively rewriting (from scratch) the first novel I ever wrote. The story, characters, plot, and world are strong in my first novel. However, the mechanical execution of the story is lacking. I’m a much better writer now than I was then, so I’m hoping a fresh take at the words will lead somewhere.

What else have you written?

I have a handful of short stories published in various anthologies along with one non-fiction piece about the night my arm was amputated in a car wreck. Lists of those anthologies can be found at my web site.

Do you create an outline before you write? 

Absolutely! I even outline short stories. The only things I don’t outline are my improv exercises that I do to get my brain in gear and get the writing juices flowing. Before I start in on a novel (and many of my short stories), I have to know the opening scene and the ending scene. Then I outline the steps to get from A to Z. If I ever try to write by the seat of my pants, I feel like I’ve just screamed, “Road trip!” and jumped in the car without knowing where I’m going. It just doesn’t feel right to me.

How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?

I’m not as nice to my characters as I used to be. I used to be very protective and precious about my protagonists. It took me a while to learn that readers love it when characters get beat up, thrashed about, and torn down before overcoming the odds. It’s no fun for a reader to experience a character that can handle anything, do anything, and never really faces true obstacles while going through their adventures.

At this stage in your career, what is your greatest challenge?

This has been a challenge for me, on and off, through my career: making the time to write on a regular basis. I have weeks where I write daily. I have weeks where I write sporadically. I tend to get 3-4 days of writing done each week, but I need to really buckle down and increase that to 5-6 days a week. That’s all on me to make happen, though.

What life experiences inspire or enrich your work?

I’ve been doing martial arts (on and off) since I was 13. I’ve practiced pretty much every major martial art, and probably a few more esoteric ones. I’ve done punching/kicking martial arts. I’ve done grappling/submission martial arts. I’ve done unarmed and armed martial arts. I was also raised around firearms and know them quite well. The decades of combat experience I have really helps me out when it comes to describing physical conflict of any kind. I’ve always received high praise for my fight scenes, so this has freed me up to focus my improvements in other areas (like dialogue) that need to be shored up.

How do you pick yourself up in the face of adversity?

Honestly, I’m too stubborn to quit. I set goals for myself, ensure they are realistic (yet challenging) and press forward to get to those goals. I set a goal of having a novel published within ten years of restarting my writing career. I managed to do it in eleven. For that year gap between my goal and the actualization of that goal, I was a real pain the butt to be around. I was moody, down, angry, and generally not a nice person. Friends and family talked some sense into me, and I managed to get over it. If I find myself stalled or “dead” on a project, I typically write about a dozen pieces of flash fiction in an improv manner. This helps kick me back into gear, and I never know what form of exciting ideas I’ll get from the improv stories.

If you could do anything differently, what would it be?

I’ve made myself quit writing several times throughout my life. I quit at ages 10, 15, and around 22. If I’d stuck with things from that young age and pressed forward, I can’t help but think how far ahead I’d be of my current self in my writing career. I don’t look back too deeply on those times, though. I’ve managed to accumulate plenty of life experience, and maybe that’s what I needed to get to where I could seriously buckle down and start writing again.

What are some of your favorite authors?

This is a rather lengthy list, and I know I’ll leave some out… so I’ll just stick with two: Terry Brooks and Carol Berg. I picked up my first “adult” book at age 7. It was Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks, and that set the stage for a lifelong love of the fantasy genre. I especially love Carol Berg’s works because of the interesting characters and plot developments she manages to spin. Both of these authors are great studies for anyone wanting to delve into the fantasy genre as a writer.

Thank you so much, J.T., for spending time with us. Before I present our visitors with an excerpt from Griffin’s Feather, as well as your book buy and social media links, I’d like to conclude this interview with a Lightning Round. In as few words as possible, please complete the following:

 My best friend would tell you I’m a: Paladin

The one thing I cannot do without is: Caffeine

The one thing I would change about my life: I wouldn’t have quit writing at a young age.

My biggest peeve is: Personal insults during any kind of debate.

The person I’m most satisfied with is: My son. He’s a great human being, and will be a wonderful man.

Do you have a parting thought you would like to leave us with?

Grab your dreams, don’t let go, and keep them close as you travel through life. If a dream escapes, that’s okay. There will be replacements ones. Just keep dreaming and achieving!

 

Griffin’s Feather excerpt:

I stared at the Rorschach patterns of the piss stains on the wall of my motel room in an effort to ignore the busted springs that could only be generously called a mattress. I turned my head side-to-side trying to find some semblance of art or pattern in the yellow-on-smoke-stained-white. I’d slept in more comfortable ditches during my time as a Roman Centurion almost two-thousand years ago. I’d also squatted over better smelling holes while in the field than the emanations coming from the mattress when I shifted my weight.

Accepting the discomfort without complaint like a good soldier always does, I turned to the television. The twenty-four-hour news crackled from the flickering screen. I hated the modern news, but I couldn’t find any other channels on the damn thing. The newscaster shifted her tone from fake sorrow about some natural disaster to the even more false happiness as she moved on to an “on the lighter side of the news” story.

Her lips moved, and the words fell from her face. “As you can see in this home video, someone glued feathers to this lion’s head and set it loose during the Strawberry Festival in Poteet, Texas. The animal doesn’t seem to be in any distress, but local authorities have asked citizens to call animal control if the festooned feline is spotted.”

The news puppet chirped her words, and a blurry video captured a few seconds of a large lion bearing feathers leaping a fence and vanishing from sight.

A griffin ran free in southern Texas.

]The mythological creature walked on the feet of an eagle but had the body of a lion. In addition to the eagle claws, a griffin also sported the head and wings of the majestic bird.

]Mortals had a strange way of lying to themselves when it comes to supernatural happenings. It was as if their fragile minds couldn’t handle proof there is something greater and more powerful than them sharing this world. Those who saw and talked about the truth of things were labeled as “crazies” or “kooks” or “religious fanatics.” I usually kept my mouth shut, and my eyes opened to avoid the stigma of someone bereft of their senses. This was true even around those I considered close friends.

I shook my head and put away one of my father’s journals I had been reading. His neat handwriting, precise words, and terse phrasing let me know the events of his life, but without much in the way it impacted him emotionally. His written words always brought back memories of my childhood with him. He wasn’t especially cold or distant, but he had a hard time getting close to me and my mother. Was he immortal back then? Did he know it? Is that why he vanished when he did?

I’ve never known why, but my gut told me finding my father was the path to figuring out who I really was. He’d obviously been gifted, or cursed, with the same immortality I’d grown accustomed to. I thought he had the key to unlock the answers I’ve always sought. Even if he didn’t, it would be nice to see his face again. To hear his voice. Is he proud of me? Have I done well in his eyes?

I looked around the ratty motel room surrounding me. What would he think of me now?

Shaking my head to clear them of sentimentality, I prepared for an Ancient to appear. Some Ancient was going to have me fetch the griffin. I just knew it. When something strange happened in my neighborhood, they always showed up. I was the bounty hunter for the Ancients, after all. The only lingering question I had concerned which Ancient would appear and claim ownership of the griffin.

 

If you’ve enjoyed reading this passage, here are links where you can follow J.T. Evans online and purchase his work:

Website/Blog:                        https://jtevans.net/

Facebook:                              https://www.facebook.com/jtevans.author

Twitter:                                  https://twitter.com/jtevans

Instagram:                             https://www.instagram.com/jtevans.author/

Goodreads:                            https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3519020.J_T_Evans

Amazon Author Page:          https://www.amazon.com/J.-T.-Evans/e/B00AG3TR6O

 

Book online sales links:

Amazon (UK) (Canada)

Barnes and Noble

Smashwords

Kobo

Signed Copies Directly from J.T.

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