Author Jon Gibbs has been a mainstay for the GLVWG Write Stuff Conference™ for several years. In addition to his Saturday morning session – “Are Your Characters Right the Part”, Jon will conduct a two-hour workshop – “The Seven Sentence Solution”.
Tammy Burke had a chance to ask Jon a few questions.
Could you give us a little teaser about your two-hour workshop “The Seven-Sentence Solution” and also a teaser for “Are Your Characters Right for the Part?”
There’s a classic summary-tool used by great story-tellers like the folks at Pixar Animation.
In The Seven-Sentence Solution, I’ll be showing how to apply that same tool to sub-plots and individual characters in a way that can really help bring a book, and the people in it, to life.
In the Characters workshop, we’ll be working through some subtle techniques that can make the people in stories even more memorable/relatable to readers.
If you wrote a letter to your younger self about the writing journey, what would it say and what advice would you give?
There’s always going to be a great excuse for not writing, something that seems more important, more urgent, or simply more enticing. The question is: Would you rather look back in twenty years and have a body of work to be proud of, or a long list of great excuses?
Basically, don’t let your ‘but’ get in the way of your dream.
On your website I see you do Classroom talks with 3rd graders on up and I see one of your talk modules is entitled “Terrific Titles.” Titling for anyone can be challenging in of itself. What are your techniques for titling your works and what advice would you give an aspiring author?
I always start with the title because I suck at coming up with one after I’ve written the story. If you brainstorm titles before you start writing, you’ll be surprised how easy it is to come up with something eye-catching. As an added bonus, a great title can be a huge inspiration for characters and/or plot.
It’s always interesting to learn how other writers juggle writing time with family and work commitments. What strategies work best for you?
I try to get my writing done in the mornings because I have to fit my schedule around my twin daughters. They’re both severely autistic which makes for a lot of unexpected excitement (and plenty of sleepless nights). If I’m not careful, days, even weeks, can go by without me doing much on the productivity front, but I’ve learned to make the most of it when things are going well, and not to beat myself up when I hit a rough patch.
What resources do you use to research? How long do you typically spend researching before beginning a book? And what are you working on currently?
Mostly, I use Google, but I rarely do much research until I have the initial story down. My first drafts are riddled with notes like: INSERT: check this, INSERT: research needed (not to mention INSERT: witty line here or INSERT: write this gooder!).
Currently I have five projects on the go: I’m seeking representation for my middle-grade novel, ABRAHAM LINCOLN STOLE MY HOMEWORK. I’m revising two other novels: DEAD DORIS (MG), and a thriller, WAKING UP JACK THUNDER. For my next wip, I’m bouncing around ideas for two MG novels, GLASS-HEAD, and #MY_SUCKY_LIFE – I’ll decide which one to focus on when I have their outlines finished.
When did the “writing bug” bite you? And what was your favorite genre and/or books at that time. Why?
I was in my 40s when I started writing. Before then, I hadn’t written a word of fiction since leaving school – unless you count tax returns. That changed when I started walking my son, Bill, to his primary school in England. He’d pick an animal, and I’d make up a story about it, with Bill as the main character (I still remember one about a giraffe who was afraid of heights).
I’ve always been an avid reader. At the time, my favorite author was probably Terry Pratchett. I love books that make me laugh, especially when they also put you through the emotional wringer, which Pratchett’s books often do.
And finally, is there anything that you would recommend giving up to become a better writer? Is there anything you’ve given up in order to become one?
I would recommend that anyone serious about writing gives up complaining and/or arguing online. Social media can be a beautiful thing, but if you’re not careful, you can get sucked into the ‘With us or against us’, ‘If you don’t think like me, you’re stupid/evil’ mentality that seems par-for-the-course these days. Some folks love to surf the web, trolling people they disagree with, or reading the spiteful back-and-forth of folks who probably wouldn’t dream (or dare) be so obnoxious in person, but that kind of bile is pure poison for creativity. In this digital age, we all have to get online, but if you ask me, the world would be a better place if the internet had more funny cat videos and less pointless arguments.
When I moved here from the UK in 2004, I made a conscious decision to give up music, and focus on writing stories instead. Before then, I’d been lead vocals and keyboard player in a rock band since the late eighties. As far as fame and fortune goes, we were very much a legend in our own lunchtime, but we had a lot of fun, especially writing and recording songs.
I don’t know if giving up singing has made me a better writer, but I’m sure my neighbors are happier.
Born in England, Jon Gibbs now lives in New Jersey, where he lectured on Creative Writing at Georgian Court University from 2014-2017. Jon is the founder of The New Jersey Authors’ Network (www.njauthorsnetwork.com), his middle-grade fantasy, Fur-Face (Echelon Press), was nominated for a Crystal Kite Award. The sequel, Barnum’s Revenge (also from Echelon Press), was published in 2013.
Jon has a website: www.acatofninetales.com and a blog: http://jongibbs.livejournal.com. When he’s not chasing around after his three children, he can usually be found hunched over the computer in his basement office. One day he hopes to figure out how to switch it on.
Article by Tammy Burke
Tammy Burke, past GLVWG conference chair and president, has published over 400 articles in daily newspapers, newsletters and regional magazines. She is shopping her first YA fantasy manuscript, Hazel Lies, and is revising her second book. In addition to writing, she spearheads marketing for a fire and security systems company, raises a brilliant ADHD middle-grader, fences with rapier swords in the Society of Creative Anachronism (SCA), and considers herself a student of the fantastic and mundane.