Exclusive Interview with
When did you start writing?
Professionally, in 2000, although that was for books on various information technology topics. You know, the big books sold by the pound! I moved out of front-line tech in 2018 or so, and found that I missed writing a LOT. So I started thinking about all those stories that had been bouncing around in my head for 20-odd years, and decided to get serious about writing them down.
What makes writing your passion?
I just love writing. I love telling stories. I love inventing new worlds, new ways of seeing things, and new places to escape to. Fantasy and sci-fi have been my safe space since I was really young, and writing is a way for me to retreat—and to maybe take some folks with me.
How long have you been writing?
"Generally writing" probably... forever. I means seriously. I used to belong to Starfleet, an international Star Trek fan club, and I clearly remember writing some Starfleet Academy manuals—we used them to train up new chapter heads and such. I remember writing incredibly long emails at work in the mid 1990s. I just love putting words in order.
What was the feeling when you published your first book?
Honestly, it felt surreal. When you pick up the paperback copy for the first time, you see the cover design, you see YOUR words written down on tree leaves... it doesn't feel real at first. Then it feels amazing. And then it feels like you need to start writing the next one!
What’s the story behind your choice of characters?
Oh, gosh. You know, I'd say that I wind up writing characters that I want to relate to in some way. If you dig, you probably see a lot of me and my insecurities, you probably see a lot of my friends, especially the ones we knew when I was younger. In my head, they're fully fleshed-out, real people. You don't always see all that in the novels, of course, but it's for sure there. They're very imperfect, like me, but they try hard, and they have a vision for themselves.
What annoys you the most in pursuing a writing career?
Getting in front of readers. Like, it's amazing how much programs like KDP have democratized publishing. I've always been upset that traditional publishers do relatively little work and yet keep the lion's share of the revenue—writers are lucky to make a dollar on a book sale. But indie publishers have this massive hurdle of getting in front of their readers, spreading the word, that kind of thing. I wish more readers were diligent about leaving honest reviews, because it makes more of a difference, on a human being's life and work, than anyone can possibly imagine.
How do you get over the “writer’s block”?
I've never actually had it! I did a TikTok about it (https://www.tiktok.com/@donj_writes/video/7148069536510774574). I have a very disciplined and intensive process of blocking out the book, outlining it, and just doing a ton of up-front work. Once it comes to writing, all the decisions are made and I just get to be creative. A lot of the world-building and stuff comes at night as I'm waiting to fall asleep, or in a dream, or as I'm waking up, and I get that stuff into my blocking or notes documents ASAP. So I don't lose ideas. Sometimes, I'll write a couple of chapters to kind of capture what I think is a good idea, and then come back to it months and months later and start working on it.
Now some days, I'm not in a creative mood, and I know how to recognize that, and on those days I do other stuff. But figure at least 3-4 days a week I'm ready to write 5,000 words or so a day.
We all know the writer’s path is never easy, what makes you keep going? What advice would you give to new authors?
Write for the love of it. If all the marketing and editing and everything else is bumming you out (I personally get anxious about reading edits), then... don't. Don't commercialize your writing if that diminishes your love for it. Find people to help—my husband reads my edits for me and lets me know if it's bad or not, so I can brace myself. But above all, write for yourself, for the story, and for the people you want o read it. Write for the love of it.
If you could go back in time and talk to your younger self, what would you say?
Stop being so afraid of what other people think. Constructive criticism—actionable things that are presented politely and professionally—is fine, but don't be AFRAID of it. Write the darn story. Put it out in the world. Did you know Tolkien rewrote Lord of the Rings like four times over a decade or more? It's fine. It's fine to not get it right. It's fine to try again. But there's no progress, no motion, unless you DO IT. So just... DO IT.
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with the bad ones?
Ugh. I do. The bad ones get me really upset. Not if they're honest, polite, and just critical, but if they're mean. I try to set them aside, maybe have a glass of whisky and remind myself that every book isn't for every reader, and that's okay. When a review does have something actionable, something I could do better, I try to thank the person (if I can) so that they can see their review mattered, and I try to learn from it and do better. But the mean ones, the heartless ones that come from Internet anonymity? Whisky.
What is the feeling when you get a good review?
It's a huge boost. Like, I did this thing, and someone cared. But I also try not to let it become an echo chamber—like, I can always try to do a little better the next time, right? So I try to learn from the positive reviews, "here's what worked." And I try to thank those reviewers, when I have the means to do so, so that they know what a big difference it made. We're all just fallible humans bouncing around on this rock, and to take a moment and say something kind about each other... if that's not God's true work, I don't know what is.
Have you ever incorporated something that happened to you in real life into your novels?
Yyyyyeah, probably not in big ways, though. I honestly don't think my real life is all that interesting or useful! But now and then there'll be little things. I think if I did that a lot, I'd wind up focusing on the bad stuff, and that wouldn't always make for great writing. I dunno. Now you've got me thinking about it <grin>. Maybe in the next novel!
Which of your characters you can compare yourself with? Did you base that character on you?
Um. Daniel, maybe, a little and in certain ways, from "Daniel Scratch: a story of witchkind." I was a lonely kid, but I was fine with it—like him. And I was a big reader like him, I learned so much from reading and still do. I wanted to be part of something special, like him, although every time that's actually happened to me it was terrifying and I found myself wanting out—like him. Daniel has a lot more going on than I ever did, but I relate to him in a lot of ways.
What do you think, the book cover is as important as the story?
Yeah. I wish it wasn't, but it is. And I wish that because I suck at art, so I have to pay people to do covers, and I maybe resent the money a little, but the end result is always worth it. The cover is a story—it's part of the story. It needs to set the tone and the mood. I know I judge books heavily on their covers—even when just downloading a sample to my Kindle—so I have to remind myself that other people probably do as well.
Do you connect with your readers? Do you mind having a chat with them or you prefer to express yourself through your writing?
I did in the world of tech writing. Not so much in fiction, although I wish I could. I'd actually love to, I just don't think I know how. I'm an introvert, so chatting with people consumes a lot of energy, but I think it's a good use of that energy. You learn so much just by talking to other people. It can be so inspiring, so grounding.
How do you feel when people appreciate your work or recognize you in public?
Over the moon, of course! It's something that makes me feel... useful, I guess. I mean, we all want to be seen for who we are, and we all want to be appreciated at some level for that. When people take the time to do that, to spend the energy to do that, it's just the biggest compliment in the world.
Who is your favorite author? Why?
Anne McCaffrey, hands-down. Pern is one of my favorite worlds. "The White Dragon" is easily, easily one of my all-time favorite books, one I get genuinely emotional about. And if I could pick a second, it's Mercedes Lackey and especially her "Last Herald-Mage" series. There was a time when I very much wanted to be Vanyel, in a lot of ways. That series was incredibly validating and... comforting, I guess.
What’s the dream? Whom would you like to be as big as?
Will Wight. If I could have his reach and audience and success, it'd be bigger than being Stephen King. I love his Cradle series, and I wish I could be him when I grow up. Chris Tulbane is another. Glenn Stewart probably another. Just amazing writers with great worlds and fantastic stories that have clearly connected with an audience. I want to make an audience that happy.
Would you rewrite any of your books? Why?
I mean, I did with Daniel Scratch! Um. Maybe "The Never: A Tale of Peter and the Fae." That was the story I wanted to write for 20 years and just kept not doing. I just think my grasp of the craft is much better now. I still like the book, but I wonder if I couldn't do better.
If you could switch places with any author – who would that be?
Oooo. See, that implies I'd have to write their stories, too, not just take all the glory and cash all the checks. Um. This is a hard question! I'm not sure I could pick someone. The responsibility would be huge, and you can't really tell anyone else's story as well as they could. Maybe... just maybe... Piers Anthony, and only for his Incarnations of Immortality series. I do feel like he phoned it in in a few places, and I'd love a chance to tell some of those stories, and expansions, to his audience.
What would you say to the “trolls” on the internet? We all know them – people who like to write awful reviews to books they’ve never read or didn’t like that much, just to annoy the author.
I don't know why some people just delight in causing misery and chaos. I feel like you can build or break, and they choose to break. I honestly wonder if it's because they were bullied and broken themselves, and so it's all they know. I feel sorry for them. I probably wouldn't say anything to them, other than, "I'm sorry you were hurt so much."
What would you say to your readers?
READ MOAR BOOKS! <grin> But seriously, REACH OUT. Find me on Twitter or TikTok (@concentrateddon and @donj_writes) and say hi. Tell me what you liked. Tell me what you didn't. Tell me what you'd like to see more of. Come to Vegas and have a drink with me! Authors are people, and most of us would really love to hear from a genuine reader who wants to have a genuine conversation.
Share a bit about yourself – where do you live, are you married, do you have kids?
I live in Las Vegas, although we have a cabin in Southern Utah that we spend time at in the summers. I am married—I've been with my hubby for 27 years (as of 2022) and we've been married since New Year's Eve 2017. I have one kid, Cory, who is a wonderful chocolate Goldendoodle who makes me so happy.
What is your day job if you have one?
I'm VP of Content for a company called Karat. We do outsourced technology job interviewing, and my team produces the interview content. Our mission is to make every interview fair and unbiased, predictive of good job performance, and as enjoyable as possible.
What are your hobbies? What do you do in your free time?
Write! Our cabin is a continual DIY project too, and I do love being able to do something material with my hands and see it DONE. We love going out to Las Vegas' amazing bars and restaurants and shows, so when we're home that's usually how we wrap up an evening. In the kinda-hobby department, I also do a lot of mentoring—mainly helping other folks in my tech professional navigate their careers, and to give them a neutral ear off which to bounce ideas.
Did you have a happy childhood?
Yeah, I'd say so. I was a Navy brat, so you're moving around a lot and it took me a long time to learn how to make friends—which I'm honestly not good at still. But is was comfortable—we weren't rich, but we made do. So yeah, pretty happy. I don't recall any distinctively dark times.
Is there a particular experience that made you start writing?
None I can remember—as I said, I feel like I've been writing in some form or another practically forever. My Mom even bought us a typewriter at one point (personal computers were still pretty expensive back then), although I wasn't writing stories with it that I recall. Maybe it's because I love reading so much, but I'd run out of books to read, and I started imagining my own stories to fill in the gaps.
Do you have unpublished books? What are they about?
Nothing completed. I need to rewrite "Master of the Tower," which is the second in the "witchkind" series, and "Clara Thorn" is absolutely getting a sequel, but I'm not sitting on any manuscripts.
What do you think should be improved in the education of our children? What do we lack?
I don't think our education system has a mission statement. Like, we don't have a specific set of defined problems that we're trying to solve. As a result, I feel like education is just stuff we throw at a wall to see if it sticks. Do kids need high school biology? Why? Just to be "well rounded?" Does it actually enable them, or improve their life outcomes in some way? If there's one for-sure defined problem we could solve it's "critical thinking." And frankly, I feel like we'd all be better off if our education system found a way to encourage creativity, rather than trying to shove everyone into the same reading-writing-'rithmatic mold. We could sue more creativity in the world, because creativity is what solves the many, many problems we're all facing.
If you were allowed 3 wishes – what would they be?
Oh, my. One, I'd like to have a financially secure retirement. That's super-prosaic, but if I could retire—even early—I'd spend more time writing novels and go get some important-but-low-paying job with a meaningful nonprofit. That's still selfish on my part, but it's one of the things I want most. Two, I'd wish that we could figure out how to have affordable, reliable healthcare in the US. It seems impossible that we're one of the richest countries on Earth, but most of our citizens can't afford even a minor injury without going into insane amounts of debt. And I guess along those lines, three, I'd like everyone to be able to have good food and clean water. I don't know how we're all supposed to get along, with all of our varied viewpoints, when some of us can't even afford a meal or a healthy cup of water.
What is your favorite music?
I'm reasonably eclectic. Pop, New Age, Alt Rock. Jazz is an especial favorite. I don't run across many country or hip-hop songs that I like, but there are a few. There's this sub-genre I call "Chill Jazz Remixes;" it's where artists basically do rearranged versions of popular music, and they're slow, and chill, and very lounge-y. I could listen to that stuff literally all day.
Share a secret with us 🙂
On the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, there was a character named Tasha Yar, played by actor Denise Crosby. Denise came to a fan conference one time in Virginia Beach, and I was one of the staff. I encourage you to Google "Tasha Yar Underwear" and read the story :).