Today, I finally have my interview up with Jonathan Moore, author of Redheads, after technical difficulties last week during his launch! I’ve been dying to share it with you, as I feel Jonathan is a new author who is one to watch! If you like horror, crime, thrillers, serial killer dramas, supernatural twists, or just great literature, this book is one you must read for yourself.
You can read my review HERE if you’re curious about my thoughts on the book! But set aside some time this weekend and check out our interview, we get in-depth about his work and genres and he shares some beautiful photos of his boat in Hawaii…oh, we went sailing, didn’t you know? *in my dreams*
Hi, Jonathan! Welcome to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! I’m so excited to have you here to talk about your debut novel, Redheads, as well as to introduce you to other authors and readers! What did it feel like for you to release your first book last week (Nov. 5, 2013)?
Jonathan: Hi Erin, thanks for having me. This is a great blog, and I’ve been following it for a while now. Watching my book release felt great—it was something I’ve been working towards for a long time, so seeing it come together was thrilling. The whole publishing process, in fact, has been great fun.
Erin: Thanks for following and I’m so glad you enjoy it! It’s snowing and cold here, so I definitely want to come where you are! Let’s take a ride on the boat, drink some coffee, and discuss while I get tan in your warm Hawaii environment! I need some sun about now (Ohio doesn’t have that every day!)!
Jonathan: Get yourself settled in. If you want something stronger than coffee, I keep cold beer on the boat, and there may be a bottle of rum in the freezer. The boat’s name, by the way, is Pez Vela, and she’s been a good friend for a while now. In fact, she helped me get this novel going. Here’s a picture of her in Pokai Bay:
Erin: The boat is lovely and the water inviting! Ah, I’ll have the rum with some coke, or if it is coconut rum (my fave) I’ll have with Sprite! *smile*
Q: I know you’ve been a man of many talents career wise over your young life. Normally, knowing you now work as an attorney, I’d ask how you made the switch to writing, but I also know you used to be an English teacher! So how about you tell how writing started for you, why you chose to become a lawyer, and then why you took the dive back into a creative profession?
A: This is going to be a really long answer, so if you haven’t grabbed a beer yet, now would be a good time.
Erin: Thanks for pouring me a second of that rum…I’m all ears!
I’ve always wanted to be a writer. From the time I was a kid—in fact, before I could spell—I’d write stories. My first stories, when I was in kindergarten, were about a dog and a snake who were friends. I’d like to think my stories have gotten better, or at least more complicated, since then.
In high school, I bugged out of Central Texas as soon as I could, and went to Interlochen Arts Academy, in Michigan, where I majored in creative writing. Interlochen is mostly known as a music school, but its creative writing program was top notch—I mean, seriously, what other high school even has a full-fledged creative writing major?
In fact, Interlochen was so great, it almost set me up to fail in college. I dropped out of more undergraduate colleges than I’d care to mention before I found one in San Francisco that left me alone and let me write. That was the New College of California, which sadly no longer exists.
I graduated in 2001 with a degree in creative writing, and (unsurprisingly) no job prospects whatsoever. I had this half-baked idea that if I studied a foreign language, I might improve my writing style by getting a different perspective on language. So I moved to Taiwan and found a job teaching kindergarten, and spent my spare time studying Mandarin. On the side, I tutored adults, taught high school classes, and started a Tex-Mex restaurant. It was all good fun, but at some point I realized that with my particular skill set—i.e., making stuff up and writing it down—I’d be a great lawyer. I went to Tulane Law School, in New Orleans.
I met my wife in law school, and she and I moved to Honolulu together after we graduated, in 2007. Eventually we both got great jobs in the same law firm, and as things settled down, we bought the boat you and I are sitting on now—Pez Vela.
I hadn’t written anything creative in years, but Pez Vela unlocked something in me. Here was this vessel that had been floating around the world’s oceans for years—when we bought her and cleaned her out, Maria found Thai bahts from the 1970s in the bilge—and whenever I stepped aboard and sat in her saloon, I felt this sense of history and adventure. I’d felt the same thing before, when I was writing regularly. I wanted that again. So eventually, I’d stop by the marina on my way home from work, light the oil lamp in the saloon, and sit at the table to write.
Redheads came out of that.
Erin: That is amazing! I love how your connection with the water and your boat, annd your love of books probably too, helped you reach inside yourself to challenge and pursue your writing dream!
Q: Redheads is your first novel to be published and went live Nov. 5, published by Samhain Publishing. In your own words, can you tell us what your novel is about and where you came up with the idea of such a dastardly killer?
A: Redheads started as a story about love and loss, and ended up as a revenge tale. That’s probably a natural progression of human emotions, so I’m happy with it. It’s about a man whose wife was murdered six years before the book begins. The murder was brutal—Cheryl Wilcox was raped and eaten alive—but the police never even came close to solving it. So Chris Wilcox rededicates his life to finding the killer. Along the way, he discovers a bloody trail of similar, unsolved crimes, and he teams up with two other people who have lost loved ones.
When it comes to the killer in this story, there’s a bit of a twist. I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and write something I’d never written before—and maybe in the process create something other people would pay to read. So yes, the killer is dastardly. This isn’t your grandfather’s Silence of the Lambs—which, by the way, is a great novel, but Thomas Harris already wrote it, and it didn’t need to be written again.
Erin: Yes, definitely for those who like the Hannibal story, but I think even MORE scary with a great twist! I also noted that in your love story within the book, I found myself thinking, even in something so bad that happened to those two, they still found love and happiness, so that out of something horrible came something good…
Q: Your book is loaded with technical information, from police procedure, criminal behavior, technology, surveillance, etc. How did you research or come to know all this information in such a precise manner? Did you mean to write the book in this format or did it just happen this way naturally?
A: The technical information in Redheads was a lot of fun to write. Most writers probably have a panel of go-to people for asking all kinds of weird questions. I’m truly fortunate, because my dad is a top-flight computer scientist, my mom worked in pharmaceutical design, my sister has a Ph.D. in ecology, my stepbrother is a commercial pilot, and my best friend is a cardiologist. From my own job, I had easy access to learning all kinds of things about police and F.B.I. procedures, and legal issues that came up. It was a lot of fun.
It was also totally unexpected. My two favorite writers are Cormac McCarthy and Ernest Hemingway. But I challenge you to imagine either Hemingway or McCarthy ever writing anything that involved DNA sequencing, computer hacking, or biometrics.
It’s not that they couldn’t do it—clearly, either of them are capable of writing anything—it’s that those things aren’t (or weren’t, in Hemingway’s case) a part of their particular aesthetic. When you read McCarthy and Hemingway, the natural world has huge, beautiful resonance, and comes at you uncluttered by modernity. High tech information would just look like litter on the mountain trail.
But to tell this particular story, I couldn’t ignore that stuff. DNA, computers, biometrics and joint intelligence task forces might not have been part of Hemingway’s artistic universe, but these were all necessary to the palette of Redheads. And when I started writing about them, I discovered my own voice. It was a great feeling.
Erin: So many men who write action and horror tell me they are Hemingway fans (me, I just was so tired of the bullfighting and prefer Fitzgerald)! My friend, horror author Hunter Shea, said that Hemingway helped him learn to write his action sequences. But yes, modern technology is so far advanced beyond anything anyone (other than some sci-fi authors) might have envisioned. You certainly did seem to take all the elements of things you enjoyed or were knowledgeable about and turn them into a thrill ride of a book.
Q: How long did it take you to write Redheads? How many drafts to make sure all that detail was sewn up and loose ends completed? It seems when you get precise with details it lends also to find more fault, though in your book I didn’t seem to catch any. Did you find yourself revisiting the draft often to ensure all the technical aspects were logical?
A: I spent thirteen months writing Redheads. A lot of that was down time, where I was caught up with work and not writing anything at all. I then went through several drafts while I was trying to get the thing published. One editor, Mallory Braus, was interested enough to send me a detailed letter suggesting revisions and inviting me to resubmit. I made the changes, but she still felt it wasn’t right for her line. After that rejection, I took another look at her letter and did some further revisions, and that was when I found Don D’Auria, my editor at Samhain.
Erin: Honestly, I would have guessed it took you much longer! There is so much technical detail!
Q: How did you decide to put in the supernatural element (without giving too much away of course!)? It felt very gothic by the end? That was a cool mixing of styles.
A: Thanks! You can call it supernatural, or science fiction, or anything else you want. I’m not too concerned with labels. But I decided to take the story in this direction because I wanted to push some boundaries and write something that was out the ordinary. It was a question of “What if…?” So it was an experiment for me, but I think it worked. I sincerely hope readers think so, too.
Erin: I try to label everything, I am in marketing…haha! People like to identify with a product before buying it. Putting a science fiction label on it would be wrong and probably turn readers away who would normally buy it! You’re right though, it worked. So I’ll just call it what I want to….a crime thriller with a gothic twist.
Q: Your works have been compared on some level to some very best-selling authors. Though I know everyone is an original, who do you feel best aligns with your own writing on this novel? Who are your own favorite authors and why?
A: I love those comparisons. Please keep them coming. Some other super-popular writers I wouldn’t mind being compared to are: Stephen King, Michael Connelly, Elmore Leonard and Dennis Lehane. Tell me I write like one of those guys and I’ll spend the whole day gloating over it and posting it on Facebook.
Q: Do you consider yourself in the thriller, crime, suspense, or horror genres? Or all? Explain your answer please.
A: I’ll follow the story wherever it goes, so I guess I’ll write in any genre that fits. I don’t dislike genre labels—they can be very useful for marketing—but I don’t consider myself as belonging to one group and not another. That said, I think Redheads is right at home in all sorts of genres. It is a crime story, because there is a crime at its heart, and it delves into the procedures of solving it. It’s a thriller, because there is so much at stake for the characters, and there is a ticking clock to find the killer before he devours the next victim (or one of the main characters). It’s a horror novel because—let’s face it—when you have young women getting eaten, that’s a horrible thing no matter how you tell it. It was published by a horror publisher, but I don’t think that limits this story in any way.
Erin: Your answer was what I was looking for. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to fit you into one genre only, just trying to allow readers to get a feel on if they’d enjoy this type of book. Many people say to me that they could never read horror, but then they’ve been reading books on serial killers, crime, and the like. Readers get confused and I’m on a mission to inform them better so that more authors get more books sold to the right people. *smile*
Q: Do you feel that more of the aforementioned are crossing boundaries with each other? Is horror being redefined?
A: I honestly don’t know. Like I said, I don’t mind genre labels, but I’m not attached to them in any way, so I don’t think a lot about definitions. Does Stephen King write horror? It depends who you ask. He’s a beautiful stylist, and his novel It is a great example of a literary novel disguised as a horror novel. Or take Cormac McCarthy—Child of God is probably the creepiest horror novel ever written, but establishment critics like Harold Bloom (who are paid to know these things) say McCarthy is the heir to William Faulkner. So my feeling is that genre labels are simply useful for marketing—they tell you this is a book you might like, because it is sort of like other books you liked. But that’s all they tell you; they don’t say anything about what a book actually is.
Q: What other kinds of writing are in the works for you? Do you have another novel for us to look forward to?
A: My agent recently sold my second novel to Random House. That novel is called Close Reach, and will be released on May 6, 2014. I just dissed genre labels as a way of telling you about a book, but forget I said that. Close Reach is a thriller. A very dark thriller. It’s set aboard a sailboat in the Drake Passage, between Antarctica and Chile. Terrible things happen to my characters, and I am still apologizing to them for what they had to endure. Some scenes in that novel were so hard to write, they followed me around for days afterwards.
I also have a third novel, which is a murder mystery set in San Francisco. My agent and I are discussing the ending to that book now, but I hope to have it fixed up and ready to go soon. I’m confident a publisher will like it.
Erin: I can’t wait to read both of them!
Q: How hard is it to find time to write creatively with your busy career schedule?
A: It’s not too hard to write, even though my schedule keeps me very busy. Hawaii has a nice saying: we stay on island time. So although I’m busy, I don’t have it nearly as bad as my attorney-friends in New York. I can usually write on the weekends, and when I’m really cranking on a book, I’ll write at night when I get home from the office.
Q: Are you a person who uses an outline or are you a “pantser?” If you don’t know what I pantser is, it is a term some of us recently identified with since we “write by the seat of our pants.”
A: I am a panster—or a shortster, since this is Hawaii and it’s always warm. I have a hard time writing outlines for legal briefs, so I’d never be able to do one for a novel.
Q: You live in a paradise in Hawaii. How does this help or hinder your writing career? I would imagine it would spur creativity, but with so much nature to enjoy it would hard to be so dedicated! Ha!
A: Happiness and comfort are totally undervalued as artistic motivators. For me, Hawaii is extremely comfortable, and I’m lucky. There are a few breakfast spots in Waikiki where you can usually find me with a laptop on the weekends, and I’ll be having the time of my life. Plus, the coffee here is fantastic.
Erin: Sounds so lovely….
Q: What are your hopes for your writing career? Do you plan to write more crime novels in which you can utilize your investigative strengths?
A: I’d like to write and publish a novel every year, if I can. Though Redheads took thirteen months, my second and third novels took three months each. Like I said, I can’t write from an outline, so for me, writing is really a matter of getting hit with a whole book at once and then trying to get it all down before I lose it. A lot of great sculptors talked about the idea of not actually creating their works, but just uncovering them from the marble. I’m not comparing my works to Italian masterpieces, but I do feel the same way about the process: the stories are already there, and my only job is to dig them up once I find them. Finding them is sometimes hard, but once I kick around and know there’s something there, it’s just a matter of bringing it to the surface.
But this is all a fancy way of saying: I have no freaking idea what I’m going to write next.
Erin: HA! But I bet your subconscious does, even if you don’t think so!
Q: Have you ever thought about writing a different type of novel, or am I putting the cart before the horse so to speak?
A: My last answer probably addressed this. But to reiterate, I’ll write anything if I think I can get it done, and if I love it.
Q: What do you like best about writing?
A: The whole process is fun, except for the first ten pages. I enjoy having a project to work on, and I love the research.
Q: Do you have any advice for any aspiring or upcoming authors? What motivation or words of encouragement can you give?
A: Yes, I do have a little. The writing community is a lot more friendly and giving than I ever would have imagined. If you are a budding writer, go ahead and start reaching out to writers you admire. You’d be surprised how many of them will reach back, and how generous they can be with their thoughts, their time and their contacts. There are some truly wonderful people out there. I met my agent because I met an author I’d admired for a long time at KillerCon, in Las Vegas. I’d gone to Vegas to meet Don D’Auria, after he’d agreed to acquire Redheads for Samhain. But then I met Jack Ketchum, who read Redheads, liked it a lot, and put me in touch with his agent. Things really started to fall into place after that.
I guess that was more ‘publishing advice’ than ‘writing advice.’ For writing advice, I’d just say this: read as widely as you can, and then sit down and write the novel you want to be reading—not the novel you think you should be writing.
Erin: I think you were extremely lucky to get Jack Ketchum on board your work!
Q: Your favorite place for dinner or your favorite type of food?
A: There is a sushi place in Waikiki called Chiba Ken. They know me well there, and usually pour the Otokayama sake before I even sit down. And their uni nigiri is delicious.
Erin: I have no idea what any of that even is!! Go ahead, laugh…
Q: What else do you enjoy doing besides writing?
A: I love sailing. Readers who buy Close Reach in May will probably pick up on that. And in December, Maria and I are going to Tanzania to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. That will be fun. I also read a lot. I just bought The Jack in the Green, by Frazer Lee, and I got books from Brian Pinkerton, W.D. Gagliani, Mick Ridgewell and Brian Moreland and this year’s KillerCon.
Erin: That sounds like so much fun for Maria and you! I bet you find a story there! I like to read too, can you tell? I have Jack in the Green from Frazer too, and those other guys, well they are pretty wonderful too!
Q: I know you don’t have too much up online yet, but is there a way readers or fellow writers can contact you?
A: I’m ashamed at how little I have online. About six months ago, I hired a great website designer to build a site for me—I have the domain already: www.jonathanmoorefiction.com. But I’m sure I’ve been the worst client this web designer has ever had. He asks me to do stuff, and I just don’t do it. He has been waiting for months for me to supply content, and patiently sends me an email and calls me every Monday morning. At first I didn’t get him anything because I was finishing my most recent novel, and I could only think of that. Then two of my cases started gearing up towards trial, and I just bought a new house and had to move…and….and I’m running out of excuses. I need to get it done. In the meantime, people can always find me on Facebook. I’m friends with you, so if people see my post’s on you pages (Erin Al-Mehairi or Hook of a Book), they’ve got the right guy.
Erin: I’d say yes, probably should. Your book is going to be huge and people will want to connect with you and you’ll want to grow your fan base. If you need help, I’m raising my hand!
Q: Where can your book be purchased?
A: My book is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and wherever ebooks are sold. It is also available on the Samhain website, and can be ordered as a beautiful trade paperback, or in any electronic format.
Erin: Thank you so much, Jonathan, for the wonderful boat ride. I can smell the island flowers and feel the warmth of the sun in my hair. Almost makes me forget what a scary book you just published!! Kidding! I had a great time discussing your book and your life with you. Hope to have you back in the future and best wishes your writing!
Jonathan: Thank you, Erin, for the chance to come here and talk.
For a last comment—there is a scene in Redheads when two of the characters escape by boat to Haleolono harbor, on Molokai. Here’s Pez Vela in that harbor:
Chris Wilcox has been searching for years, so he knows a few things about his wife’s killer. Cheryl Wilcox wasn’t the first. All the victims were redheads. All eaten alive and left within a mile of the ocean. The trail of death crosses the globe and spans decades.
The cold trail catches fire when Chris and two other survivors find a trace of the killer’s DNA. By hiring a cutting-edge lab to sequence it, they make a terrifying discovery. The killer is far more dangerous than they ever guessed. And now they’re being hunted by their own prey.
Author Jonathan Moore, Biography~
Jonathan Moore and his wife, Maria Wang, live in Hawaii. When he’s not writing, or fixing his boat, Jonathan is an attorney. Before completing law school in New Orleans, he was an English teacher, a whitewater raft guide on the Rio Grande, a counselor at a Texas wilderness camp for juvenile delinquents, and an investigator for a criminal defense attorney in Washington, D.C. He is working on getting his information up online!