Full-time tech writer and dad by day, awarding winning YA novelist by night, Jon Skovron took time out of his crazy schedule this week to visit with me about his craft, his favorite books and a particular half-demon girl who attends Catholic-school.
How and why did you become a writer?
I started writing in junior high, mostly just knock offs of books I liked. I started getting more serious about it in high school, but for some reason, it never occurred to me that I could actually be a writer. It was just something I did when I wasn’t doing theater or music. I went on to get an acting degree from Carnegie Mellon and promptly decided that the last thing I wanted to be was a professional actor (it’s a long story that involves Paramount Studios and an avant-garde production of Merchant of Venice set in a warehouse in Pittsburgh). At the time that everything was coming apart on me, I was reading The World According to Garp by John Irving, and with the arrogance that only someone in their early twenties possesses, I thought to myself, "Hey, I could do this!". And a mere ten years later, Struts & Frets was published.
What is your writing process (do you have beta readers? Work with a writing group? etc…)
I tend to follow the Stephen King school of thought. The first draft, which is generally terrible, nobody sees but me. And I mean nobody. It sucks and that’s exactly what rough drafts are supposed to do. I put it away for a month and work on something else. Then I come back and take a harder look at the mess I’ve made. I do this a few times, and then once I’m getting to that point where I’m beginning to lose perspective on the work, I ask a few beta readers to take a look at it. I’ll incorporate their comments and polish it up a bit more. Finally, I’ll have my agent take a look at it. Often I’ll also send it to someone who doesn’t particularly care for the genre to see how much it crosses over. When all that is done, it’s time to have my agent send it off to my editor. That’s always exciting because my editor generally has something brilliant to say that clarifies some nagging problem I’ve been struggling with. She’s good like that.
What inspires you as a writer?
Everything inspires me. Everything I do feeds into it. Books, movies, music, visual art, of course. People I meet, old friends, strange encounters. Even the worst things that happen are grist for the mill. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in some terrible or tragic situation and in the back of my head, thought, "Well, at least this will make me a better writer…". Richard Price said that a writer has to be constantly falling in love with life, and that is pretty true for me. Even when I’m miserable, I’m in love with it.
Wait, does that make me co-dependant with life?
Like many of us, you have another job other than writing. When do you find time to write?
I used to be super hardcore about managing my time. When you have little kids and a day job, leisure time is more or less nonexistent. I literally cut out anything that didn’t directly relate to my day job, my family, or my writing. No tv, no games, no movies, I barely even read books unless they were research for something I was writing. I think sometimes you have to do it that way. But as I discovered, it’s not something you can really sustain over a long period of time. If you don’t temper it some, if you don’t take care of the rest of you, the writing well starts going dry. So now I try to be more balanced.
Another part of finding time to write is not making it so precious. Instead of taking all this time to cultivate the mood, light candles, listen to music, or whatever, just sit down and write. If you have ten minutes, use it. You’d be amazed how much you can get done in ten minutes if you just get out of your own way.
What are some of your favorite books and why?
Man, that’s tough. There are so many. But for fun, let me list books that have been sort of sign posts in my life.
There were a few books I picked up as a teen (they didn’t have YA back then) that started me down this road of reading/writing. It is the wonder and play that these books inspired that is always at the center of what I do:
The Belgriad by David Eddings
Interview with a Vampire by Anne Rice
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Then I went through my "serious" phase in college, which I like to think gave my writing intellectual depth (hahahahah):
The Stranger by Albert Camus
Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller
A Hero of Our Time by Mikhail Lermontov
Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
After college, I (re)discovered two important things.
Books with heart:
The World According to Garp by John Irving
Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
Books with magic:
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
The Scar by China Mieville
Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link
And more recently, I discovered the joy, daring, and lack of pretension in YA:
Valiant by Holly Black
Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin
Goddless by Pete Hautman
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
I guess if you mash all that up into one big ball, that could define my writing.
What advice would you give to writers who are just starting out?
You may have to write several bad books before you write a good one. Don’t panic. That’s normal. The bad books will teach you a lot if you just pay attention. Persistence in the face of constant rejection is the difference between those who get published and those who don’t.
You mentioned on your blog you have a new book coming out. Do you have any details about your new project you can share?
Yes! The new book is called Misfit. It’s about a sarcastic yet lovable half-demon girl in Catholic School. It’s a much bigger, much darker book than Struts & Frets, but it still has my same humor and spirit. But, you know, with monsters and stuff. It comes out Fall of 2011.
Do you have any appearances or events coming up?
I’m going to be at PAYA www.bringya2pa.com on August 21st. It’s an event in West Chester (just outside Philly) to help raise money for Pennsylvania libraries. I’ll be talking about writing and doing a workshop in the morning and signing in the afternoon. There will be a ton of writers there, including my buddies Josh Berk, Cyn Balog, Amy White, and Jenn Hubbard.
You can learn more about Jon on his blog at http://www.jonskovron.com and by his books online or at your favorite indie bookstore.