J.D. Rhoades: The Terribleminds Interview
J.D.’s one of those authors who’s out there in the trenches fighting the good fight. He writes what he wants and finds a way to get it out there, whether that means through traditional means or through DIY channels. Here’s the man himself to tell you what he’s got going on. You can find him at his website: jdrhoades.blogspot.com or on them thar Twitters @JD_Rhoades.
This is a blog about writing and storytelling. So, tell us a story. As short or long as you care to make it. As true or false as you see it.
There was this guy. And he lived a pretty comfortable life. Then something happened, and things got pretty scary. He met this girl, and he really liked her, but then things got scary for her too. Things got worse and worse. Some other guy who knew a lot about scary stuff helped him out, and it looked like he might make it, but then a really bad thing happened, and some people got killed, and some other people he thought were his friends turned out to be secretly enemies, and it looked like all hope was lost. But at the end, the guy conquered his fear and the danger and he got the girl. The end.
Why do you tell stories?
I see movies in my head that no one’s ever made. I hear conversations between people who aren’t there. I write this stuff down so I can tell people I’m a writer and not someone having a psychotic break.
Give the audience one piece of writing or storytelling advice:
Other than the obvious (“Get your ass in the chair and write!”), I tell people: always remember that everyone in your book has his or her own story, from the protagonist right down to the cab drivers and delivery guys. Take the time and get to know them, even if you don’t use all of them. You may be surprised when a minor character suddenly takes the stage. It happens to me over and over. Tim Buckthorn, the Deputy in BREAKING COVER, started out as a walk-on. When I was finished, he was a major character. I’m actually spinning him off into a lead. Mimir, the sentient AI in MONSTER, started as a plot device, a McGuffin. Then he became a bit of comic relief. By the end of the book, he takes a much, much bigger role. So big that…
Well, check it out.
What’s the worst piece of writing/storytelling advice you’ve ever received?
“Don’t write (fill in the blank with whatever I happen to be in the middle of writing). No one’s buying that right now.”
What goes into writing a strong character? Bonus round: give an example of a strong character.
Recognizing two facts: (1) No one is a villain in his own eyes–everyone has his reasons that seem perfectly logical and valid to him; and (2) No one is one thing all the time. A complete bastard may surprise you with an act of generosity, or a saint may have a bad day, come home and kick the dog.
Recommend a book, comic book, film, or game: something with great story. Go!
Robert Gregory Browne’s TRIAL JUNKIES. First time in years I’ve gotten to the surprise near the end and said “I totally did NOT see that coming, and yet, it makes sense.” Also, Alex Sokoloff’s HUNTRESS MOON. Great, kick-ass female lead.
Favorite word? And then, the follow up: Favorite curse word?
Favorite word: Kerfluffle.
Favorite curse word: Fuckwit.
Favorite alcoholic beverage? (If cocktail: provide recipe. If you don’t drink alcohol, fine, a non-alcoholic beverage will do.)
Rum and Coke. I started drinking that when I was a club DJ and friendly cocktail waitresses (are there any other kind?) would sneak drinks up to me in the booth. Best damn job I ever had. I’ve had to go with the caffeine free Diet Coke in recent years, though. And give up cocktail waitresses.
What skills do you bring to help humans win the inevitable war against the robots?
I’m a trained and experienced trial lawyer, so I can do that Captain Kirk logic loop thing that ties the robot’s brain in knots and makes smoke come out of his ears until his CPU locks up. If that fails, I just throw buckets of water and hope to short them out.
You’re a “hybrid” author, which is not to say you were grown in a lab, but rather, that you choose to go “both ways” in terms of traditional and self-publishing. What’s the value and danger of each?
The value of traditional publishing is they do a lot of the boring, non-writing stuff for you: editing, proofreading, cover design, and especially marketing. The danger of it is that how much of these you get–or whether you get picked at all–is too often determined by factors other than how good the work is. Editors at traditional houses will go on panels and conferences and glibly proclaim “the secret is to write a good book,” then go back and write a dozen e-mails saying “this is a good book, but we don’t think we can market it” or “this is a good book, but no one’s buying this genre right now.”
As for self-publishing, the upside is the freedom. You can write whatever the hell you want, and not have some dewy-eyed recent Ivy League graduate with a marketing degree deciding whether or not it’s “commercial” or “big” enough. The downside is that all that work I mentioned earlier gets done by you, or by someone you have to pay out of pocket. This takes time away from the writing, and it’s easy to let it take up all your time so that you soon find yourself without new product.
Jack Keller is your primary “series character.” What’s it take to write a strong character for a series? Should a series character change? Or is an audience comfortable with inertia?
I think probably some people in the audience are comfortable with inertia; they’d like to read the same book they loved over and over again. There are some great, strong characters that don’t seem to change much book to book. Nero Wolfe comes immediately to mind, as does Richard Stark’s Parker. But I can’t write that way. Real people change. They take damage, they heal or they bear the pain of their wounds, they grow or they regress as a result of the terrible stuff that happens to them (and if you’re not doing terrible stuff to your characters, why not?) I think resilience in the face of all that is what makes them strong, and therefore interesting.
You’re publishing some work under J.D. Nixx — why the choice to go with a pseudonym? What is the power of a false name?
I wrestled with the decision for a while. I wanted people to know that this was something different from my usual crime fiction. I’d read some accounts by a writer friend of mine who’d gotten nasty-grams from fans of her previous romance work when she switched to crime fiction. Apparently some people, God love ‘em, like their favorite writer so much that they’ll just grab the latest title without checking to see what it’s about. But then they get really upset when the sweet romance they expected turns out to be one of those icky, bloody crime thrillers.
On the other hand, I knew there’s some overlap between crime fiction fans and science fiction fans, and I wanted my previous fan base to know that it was me writing about vampires in space. So I stole an idea from Nora Roberts, who also writes across genres. That’s why MONSTER is by “J.D. Rhoades writing as J.D. Nixx.”
Under the Nixx name you’ve now got Monster: Nightrider’s Vengeance. Sell us on it in 140 characters or less. “Tweet-style.”
Sexy Female Vampire Death Commandos! In Space! With a sword! Werewolves! Zombies! Sex! Violence! Twisted Science! Betrayal! Revenge! WHAT MORE DO YOU NEED?
What’s next for you as a storyteller? What does the future hold?
I live by the words of Indiana Jones: “I don’t know, I’m just making this up as I go.” I’ve recently re-released a couple of short pieces under that sci-fi/fantasy pen name of J.D. Nixx. They’re legal thrillers/medieval fantasy — think Perry Mason crossed with GAME OF THRONES. As you might have noticed, I love doing genre mash-ups. Right now, I’ve gone back to thrillers and the J.D. Rhoades name and I’m writing a follow-up to BREAKING COVER that reunites Tony Wolf and Tim Buckthorn. That’ll inevitably be another self-pubbed piece, but that’s what seems to be working for me right now.