JJ White has penned five novels and over two hundred short stories. He has had articles and stories published in several anthologies and magazines including, Wordsmith, The Homestead Review, The Seven Hills Review and The Grey Sparrow Journal. His story, The Nine Hole League, will soon be published in the Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, Volume 14. He has won awards and honors from the Alabama Writers Conclave, Writers-Editors International, Maryland Writers Association, The Royal Palm Literary Awards, Professional Writers of Prescott, and Writer’s Digest.
JJ was recently nominated for the Pushcart Prize for his short piece in The Grey Sparrow Journal. He enjoys writing, surfing, golf and tennis. He lives in Merritt Island, Florida with his understanding wife, editor, and typist, Pamela.
PJ: How long have you been writing?
JJ: It’s been about seven years now. I blew out my back playing tennis with my daughter, who at that time was twenty-years-old and had played competitive tennis. The injury laid me up for about two weeks, so to fight the boredom, I decide to write. There was no muse or life-changing event involved, I just decided to write, kind of like Forrest Gump when he decided to start running. After two weeks of pen to paper I was hooked, and I haven’t stopped yet.
PJ: At what point did you reach a place where you felt successful as a writer?
JJ: It came very early in my career, because my idea of success wasn’t publication, money, or fame—it was validation. I think it’s the same for all new writers. You want someone with knowledge and experience in the field to praise your work, while helping you improve by gently critiquing the piece. There was no greater feeling then when I read the editor’s comments. And even though there were so many red correction marks on the pages that it looked like a chicken had bled to death on it, it still filled me with confidence. Someone else thought I was a writer, so I must be a writer.
PJ: Is the writing life what you expected when you started out? If not, how is it different?
JJ: I didn’t expect it to be as difficult as it was. I figured it’s easy to read a novel so it must be easy to write a novel. Naivety, though, was an asset to nascent writers like myself as I pressed ahead not knowing how damn hard it was to write, or get an agent, or get published, or sell my book in a saturated market. If I had known, I would have burned pen and paper and headed for the golf course.
PJ: The general public seems to think authors are relatively wealthy. Without prying too much, has your writing income lived up to expectations?
JJ: I have attended Dennis LeHane’s Writers in Paradise eight day workshop for the last five years and at some point in the program LeHane warns, “Don’t leave this workshop with so much enthusiasm and confidence that you quit your day job.” This was good advice as few writers can make enough money in the field to do just that. I make a few thousand each year in writing competitions but most of the income comes in bits and pieces, maybe a hundred here, a hundred there. For example, I recently sold a story to the Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine and although the magazine is distributed worldwide, it only paid $200. I would suggest inheriting a fortune and then start your career in writing.
PJ: Early on, so much focus is given to getting published. Now that you’re published, how has your focus changed?
JJ: All the anxiety I felt trying to get published has been replaced by fear. Fear of failure. Fear of success. Either one can disrupt your life and place a strain on your family and friends. Still, Columbus took a chance, so my philosophy is to press on, keep a positive attitude and accept the good with the bad. Many never get into my position and I’m thankful to be here.
PJ: How long did it take you to get published the first time?
JJ: If you mean a book—seven years.
PJ: Would you do anything differently if you had it to do over again?
JJ: Yes. As soon as I had decided I was going to pursue writing, I would have read every classic I could absorb while attending night class to get an MFA. After that, I wouldn’t have changed a thing.
PJ: Writing new material, rewriting, submitting new work, waiting, promoting published work…the list is large. How do you manage to divvy up your time to give adequate attention to all needed areas?
JJ: I neglect my job, my wife, and my children. Seriously, though, I’m able to do most of the things you mentioned in the few hours between Jeopardy and bedtime. It’s amazing how productive one can be when holed up in a room without distractions. I have a computer on, but I stay away from Facebook, Twitter, and You Tube, and use the computer only for research.
PJ: What is the single most exciting thing that’s happened to you as a writer?
JJ: Having my novel, Prodigious Savant, published by Black Opal Books.
PJ: What is the single most disappointing thing that happened to you as a writer?
JJ: When I began writing, one of my heroes was, Patrick D. Smith, who wrote the classic, A Land Remembered. He lived only a few miles from where I lived and I idolized him, amazed at his storytelling and wonderful writing. I mailed him a letter explaining I was a fellow writer and I wondered if he could come to a local writers conference to talk about his work. Three days later, he called me and explained he was too ill to attend the conference, but if I wanted to ask him questions, I could come by his house, anytime. I turned him down using some lame excuse, though I thanked him for calling. Actually, the truth was that I was afraid if I went to talk to him he would realize I wasn’t a professional writer, just an unpublished fraud posing as one. He died last year and I regret every day for turning down the invitation of the great man. I would have learned much from him.
PJ: What’s the most memorable thing (good or bad) that’s happened to you while promoting your work?
JJ: I gave a presentation at a local library where only one person showed. Rather than blow it off, I spent the next hour talking about writing with her and with the few librarians hanging around. Not only did I sell a book to my lone fan, but the librarians purchased several copies and placed them in the county library system. So it was a bad and good memory.
PJ: With more books being released each month now than ever before, what do you believe sets your work apart from the others?
JJ: Well, most of them have great covers, but it’s what’s inside that counts. I believe my novel, Prodigious Savant, has the two components necessary for a good read: A strong narrative and good writing. Any book can have beautiful writing and exposition, but without a great story it’s not going to keep the reader’s interest. You may not confuse my writing with Hemingway’s, but I tell a good tale.
PJ: What would you like to share with writers who haven’t reached the point of publication yet?
JJ: Concentrate on your writing. If your work is good and you submit it to the right people and the right competitions, the agents and publishers will come to you.
PJ: What do you feel is your most effective tool for promoting your published work?
JJ: Word of mouth. If you can get your book into the hands of a savvy reader who has mastered the social networks, and that reader loves the book, then they’ll make sure all their friends hear about it.
PJ: What area of book promotion is the most challenging to you?
JJ: Appearances. Especially in front of large audiences. If they see you’re nervous then they’ll feel uncomfortable for you and wish they were anywhere but there. Entertain them. Make them comfortable. And if they see you’re relaxed, then they’ll be relaxed. Then pull out the book.
PJ: Do you have a local independent bookseller you’d like to mention?
JJ: Murder On The Beach bookstore in Delray Beach, Florida.
PJ: Give us a list of your published titles in chronological or series order:
Death’s Twisted Tales
Deviant Acts (in 2015)
PJ: Share with us an elevator pitch (no more than 30 seconds) of your latest title:
Burlington, Vermont, 1962. Seventeen-year-old Gavin Weaver survives a dreadful explosion, six hours of brain surgery, and thirty days in a coma, to awake possessing not just one savant talent, but several, including art, music, mathematics, and memory, and all without suffering any of the usual mental disabilities associated with head trauma.
The odds are slim Gavin will survive both the internal and external conflicts that keep him from the one thing he wants most, the girl he’s loved since childhood.
PJ: Where can we buy it?
Black Opal Books
PJ: What last thing would you like to share with us that nobody knows about you and your work?
JJ: When I was in high school, I turned in my first short story I had ever written to my Composition teacher. He wrote a note on it that said, “Excellent story, John. Now please learn how to write.”