FLURRIES OF WORDS (FLOW) sat down with Spy Thriller novelist Ethan Jones for a one on one chat about his fabulous new novels, his surprising day job and what coming up next for his hero, Justin Hall. Here's what he had to say...
FLOW: I see you've been able to put out a great deal of work in a very short time frame (4 months). What is your secret?
JONES: I wrote Arctic Wargame in 2008-2009, then revised it last year and sent it through the editing process. Then, I focused on Tripoli’s Target, which was initially written in 2009-2010. I had to make a few changes to my storyline as a result of the Arab Spring and the recent developments in Libya.
It takes me about nine months to write the first draft, then another three to revise it, since I have a full-time job. Three beta readers and good friends, all published authors, help me afterwards to discover plot holes and to polish the story and the writing. This takes two-three months. Then my editors and proofreaders work on my manuscript and they take another month.
I try to find and make time to write whenever I can. And if I can’t write, then I’ll think about the storyline and the characters development.
FLOW: I imagine it's difficult to carve out writing time when you're working full time in such a thought intensive area. What do you do to ensure that you are able to devote time to writing your fiction?
I love writing fiction, so I try to be as organized as I can in my work and my other responsibilities in life. And I try to write a little bit every day and more over the weekend. Living in a country with six months of snow (Canada) also helps, since the cold weather outside somewhat limits what one can do :-)
FLOW: Practicing law and writing spy thrillers doesn't intuitively go hand in hand. What made the connection for you? How does being a lawyer influence your writing? Do your colleagues know about your fiction sideline? If so, what do they think?
JONES: I have always liked to read and I tried my hand at writing when I was 13-14. I would read a story or watch a movie and then go to write how I wanted the story or the movie to continue. Then life happened. After finishing law school, I also continued my graduate studies and got a Master of Laws degree. As a part of my degree, I had to write a 150-page thesis. The process of research, writing, rewriting and editing inspired me to return to my childhood passion. I was blessed with time and I learned things as I wrote.
There is a lot of writing and reading involved in the work of a lawyer. Memos, briefing notes, witnesses' reports, opening and closing statements. A lot of research goes into preparing for a case, whether it ends up in court or not. The legal research sharpens one’s mind, as everything needs to be persuasive and concise. These skills are extremely helpful when writing a fictional novel.
My colleagues like and support my writings. They think it’s an interesting passion.
FLOW: Have you ever been tempted to fictionalize one of your cases in a book? How has your experiences in and out of the courtroom shaped your storylines, plots and characters? What other influences do you have?
It’s not advisable to fictionalize one’s actual cases while you are still employed, since this may open the door to potential suits. I have learned that all characters have something good in them or had it at some point in their lives. Also, everyone has the potential to do good or evil, depending on their choice. Other influences have been great writers of legal and spy thrillers.
FLOW: I see from your blog that you are also quite prolific in conducting author interviews. How did that come about? Do you plan on continuing?
JONES: I started my blog - http://ethanjonesbooks.wordpress.com/ - in January. I wanted a place for authors to reach their audience through interviews and book reviews and for readers to learn about their favorite authors and their next works. It also became a place for me to connect with my fans. I plan to continue, mainly with author interviews and book reviews.
FLOW: Wow, that's a lot on your plate! How do you find time for it all? How do you make the connections with the authors you interview?
It will sound like a cliché, but prioritizing and multitasking have helped a lot. I keep a notebook handy and make lists of things to do and deadlines to get them done.
FLOW: How did you come up with the Justin Hall character? What were your main influences?
JONES: I wanted a character that was brave and resourceful, yet caring and kind. Someone who had a human dimension, who had internal struggles and personal problems. As a Canadian, Justin is all into cooperation and teamwork.
FLOW : Often authors put a lot of themselves into their main characters. How much of you is in Justin Hall? What are the similarities and differences?
I’m not Justin; my aim is not that good :-) Joking and modesty aside, I try to be as kind and as diligent as Justin is, one of the similarities. My parents are still alive and I have a good relationship with my dad, one of the differences.
FLOW: How are you finding indie publishing? Do you prefer it to the law?
JONES: Independent publishing is a marathon, not a spring. There is a lot of work, because of the vast competition. I like the flexibility and the freedom of indie publishing. The law is my first love, writing is my second.
FLOW: Tell us about how you first got into indie publishing. Who do you use for your cover art? Do you have an editor?
JONES: I shopped Arctic Wargame around in 2009 and 2010 and did the same thing with Tripoli's Target in 2010. Those were not good times for the publishing industry. I got great feedback. A few agents asked for partial manuscripts and two or three for full manuscripts. Upon the suggestion of a good friend, I dusted off my works, revised them and now everyone can enjoy my novels.
My covers are created by Kim Killion, who creates covers for best-selling authors like Allison Brennan and Larry Bond, among others. My editors and proofreaders come from Last Draft Editing.
FLOW: What lessons have you learned from the Indie Publishing game? Is there anything you would do differently now if you had it to do all over again?
Put your best foot forward, one of the best lessons. Spend as much money as you can afford on a great cover and an excellent editor/proofreader. Take your time and don’t rush any of the steps. Promoting and marketing never ends. Success is a marathon, not a sprint. I could have improved on all these areas when Arctic Wargame, the first book in the Justin Hall series, came out.
FLOW: What is the one thing you'd really like your readers to know about you that they don't already know?
JONES: I’m planning to continue the Justin Hall series with more installments. In Fog of War, Justin infiltrates Iran to help extract a defector, a nuclear scientist who can provide information on Iran’s uranium enrichment program and its plans to build a nuclear bomb. Then, Justin and Carrie will have to continue their investigation in some of the most dangerous regions of the planet, including Somalia and Yemen, the hotbeds of terrorism in the making. The release of Fog of War is tentatively planned for early summer 2013.
The fourth Justin Hall novel already has a title and a rough outline. It's called Soldier of Misfortune and should be available in winter 2013 or in early 2014.
FLOW: Are there any spoilers you can share with our readers?
JONES: One of the spoilers I can share is that Justin realizes someone has put a price on his head and his operations are being compromised. Justin and Carrie will have to find out the answers to both these questions and the answer may be just one person or two different persons without any connection to one another.
FLOW: Is there anything else you'd like to add?
JONES: Thank you for this opportunity. I appreciate it.