Interview with the highly talented writer: Jonny Lupsha
1. Would you like to tell us a bit about each of your books please?
Absolutely! I've written and released three books so far in the subgenre of Geek Non-Fiction: true stories by geeks, for geeks, and I have a sci-fi novel coming out this fall. My first book is called '100,000 Years in Detention' and is a collection of creative non fiction stories - sort of NPR-like, bittersweet, true stories about growing up as an American nerd in the 1990s. My second is 'Penny Cavalier,' which is a year-long investigative journalism project on "Real-Life Superheroes" - people who dress up in costume and really go fight crime. I interviewed 10 of them and wrote features on each source, peppered with my own experiences in writing the book. It's like a cross between 'Apocalypse Now' and 'Kick-Ass.' My third book is 'The Broken Paragon,' which collects about two dozen essays on video games and the gaming industry. My science fiction novel (which really needs a title) proposes that tomorrow, 13 enormous creatures emerge from the depths of the ocean and begin to roam the earth's surface. Along with them comes a fog that kills slow like second-hand smoke, which covers the globe. So we decide to leave the surface and build cities on the backs of these colossi. The book is set 99 years later.
2. What makes you get up in the mornings to write?
I started writing weird flash fiction stories in 1996, around the same time I started learning to tell party stories and jokes. It turns out I have a knack for storytelling, English and literature, so I majored in journalism in college and took several non fiction and creative writing courses on top of it. Now it's an indispensable part of my life - and it's what I'm best at. I like making people think about their lives and the world around them - and if I tell a story to which someone can relate, they know they're not going through life's triumphs and tragedies all alone. Most importantly, I have a daughter starting first grade this fall and I want to provide for her. So she's my reason for getting up, and she and this weird addiction I have to storytelling are what makes me do what I do.
3. Have you found attending cons to be useful to furthering your writing career?
Absolutely. I live on the East Coast of the United States, in Virginia, so I've been doing as many shows as I can around the state (and in nearby Maryland). It's not that it's always a huge profit margin, as a lot of people go to cons looking for comics and art prints of their favourite superheroes, but every show I do gets the word out about my books. Then when you have a really great show, you find yourself with several hundred dollars you can use to restock inventory, book another show, do some advertising, etc.
4. How would you suggest a new writer goes about gaining permission to attend one?
It's a lot harder finding cons in your area than booking them, believe it or not. Once you know what a show's called and where it's going to be, you can Google their website and most cons have a specific page for applying as a guest (for free) or booking an independent artist/press table (not free). If you can't find those, you can usually email them via a "Contact Us" link and ask to be pointed in the right direction. The great thing about independent conventions is that the people running them are regular folks and enthusiasts for geek life, so when you email them and say "Hey, here's what I do and what I have to offer; how can I be a part of your show?" they're usually very responsive. Sure, they need to sell artists' and vendors' tables to pay the rent on the event, and having that talent (or their guest celebrities and panelists) draws crowds. Even still, they're usually excited on a selfless level to have another artist contributing to the marketplace of ideas, so to speak. Then larger conventions (eg Wizard World or San Diego Comic Con) are generally tightly-run businesses, so they're also very professional and expedient when you contact them.
Of course, some places turn you down. While doing my first three books, most sci-fi and fantasy cons didn't want anything to do with me, which I understand - I'm not really in their wheelhouse. Another example is New York Comic-Con, which is maybe the second-largest comic con in the US. I have several friends from the con circuit who make their comics professionally who still get turned down from NYCC. The important thing is to be friendly and don't give up.
5. You are always very supportive/encouraging of new writers. What advice would you give to those just starting out?
The first step as an author is to "find your voice," if you'll forgive the cliche. Read, write, read some more, write some more. Don't copy anyone's style, but find whose works sound the best in your head and see if any of what they do overlaps with what you do. I mentioned my roots in journalism and anecdotes and such; as a result, I'm told my books read very easily and conversationally. Once you have your voice, write a story and send it to people who don't love you very much. Your spouse, your parents, your best friend and anyone who owes you a favour have a tendency to read your work through these rose-tinted lenses. "Ok, this is Jonny's new thing, and he drove all the way to my wedding with his wife and baby in tow, so I gotta be nice about this..." My best critics are former English professors from school and people I know who have gone into the literary/journalism industries professionally. They know how to give you tough love and they don't hold back. Writing groups are also great if you can find a local one. Meetup.com is a good source for this, or you can Google "writers workshops near ______." Then grow a mighty thick skin, because their job is to rip your heart out, stomp on it and complain about how it felt under their heel.
6. You have such stunning cover art. Where do you source your projects?
Thank you! The artwork for my first three books were either pictures I set up and took (100,000 Years; The Broken Paragon) or quick Photoshop jobs (Penny Cavalier). On the other hand, the torch logo and design for my company A Carrier of Fire was done by a college roommate and good friend, Matthew Thomas, whose art I adore. Matthew also did the mysterious sigil for my next book. All the other artwork for my upcoming sci-fi novel is made by a set of identical twin brothers I've known half my life, Nick and Brian Whitmire. I pitched the concepts of my colossi to them and what they've delivered so far has been better than anything I could've hoped for. Believe me, nobody is more excited to see what they come up with next than I am.
7. What is your favourite character you've ever created and why?
Well, since my first three books are non fiction, I can say me. We all have this way that we see ourselves as opposed to how others see us, and bringing different parts of me out into the open has been really big. For example, I mentioned that my first book was all stories about me growing up; one of those involves me not going home with someone I met at a party in college. She was really drunk; I was slightly less drunk. She ended up undressing in front of 50 people and demanding we go home together. And my sense of decency won out (and she got home safe and alone), but it didn't win out by as much as you'd want from a protagonist. Heh. So I put it in there knowing my parents would read it one day - and my grandparents, God help me. It may be the most human story about myself. It's vulnerable, embarrassing and I just barely do the right thing. I think that's been my favourite thing - balancing my adventures with some self-deprecating discomfort.
Since I'm building characters from the ground up for my next book, I'm going to go with Sean Bellamy. He's a guy who lives on one of the titans and he's just kind of a valueless salesman. He presents this business idea to his city council and they go for it, and things go horribly, horribly wrong and he spends 15 years in prison dangling from the belly of his colossus. Somewhere around there he finds his humanity, but at a great cost. His complete story is actually up on the website for my next book, at WanderingCityBlues.com - it's the first two chapters of the book and the story is called "Timeshare."
8. Who are your writing heroes?
I think Cormac McCarthy is our greatest living author. I read 'The Road' when my wife was six months pregnant with our daughter and it completely changed my life. 'Blood Meridian' is also incredible. I'm also a huge fan of David Sedaris, Neil Gaiman, HP Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe and Jack Kerouac. At the same time, I think stand-up can be a brilliant form of storytelling and comedy writing, so I'd have to add George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Patton Oswalt, Bill Burr and Lewis Black.
9. What is your favourite genre to write for?
Y'know, it's hard to say. I think writing creative/geek non fiction has been really good for me. I've learned a lot about myself and exorcised a lot of demons but I've also gotten to open my readers' eyes to the behind-the-scenes worlds of masked vigilantes and video game culture and development. At the same time, doing realistic/near-future science fiction is incredibly fun. I actually enjoy doing world-building research, so before I wrote a word, I spent three full months, 40 hours a week, looking up how to make the world feasible and realistic. "Ok, how do I get a film noir-ish detective to smoke if there's no tobacco, not enough trees for paper and no lighter fluid or matches?" As soon as I'd figure out one thing, it would be on to another. "How do I send people from one colossus to another without jetpacks, helicopters or touching the ground? Which fruits and vegetables can grow hydroponically? How quickly can someone breed and slaughter rabbits for mass consumption, and what would his/her story be?"
10. Where do you see yourself and your books heading in the next five years?
If anyone responds to this sci-fi novel, I intend on making it at least a three-book series, which will likely be my next five years. If not, I'll move on to an episodic horror thing I've had in my head the last month or two, which could be a novel or comic series or something. I don't need to be a millionaire, but I'd be truly honoured and humbled to keep building on the readership I've accrued so far so I can contribute more and more to my business and taking care of my kid.
11. Would you be interested in your books being made into film/TV?
Absolutely. This sci-fi novel is really visual and episodic in nature, and I'd love to see it adapted to another medium. That horror idea I mentioned would make a great TV series or anime, too. A few years ago I started developing a TV series with my friend Eufrey that was about an Irish neighbourhood in 1850s Boston and the cultures of anti-immigrant politics leading up to the American Civil War and the growing phenomenon of bare-knuckle boxing. In my wildest dreams it would've looked like a David Fincher-produced Gangs of New York mixed with Goodfellas or Raging Bull. We had a few episodes scripted and the first season (and its characters) sketched out, but we never quite got back to it. One day, maybe.
Thank you very much for your time and for speaking with me! It's been a lot of fun.
Thank you Jonny for being such a pleasure to interview, good luck with your writing projects!
Jonny’s website http://www.wanderingcityblues.com/ and
Jonny’s FB page https://www.facebook.com/acarrieroffire/?fref=ts
Sarah Beth James